Fears for Yang Hengjun's health amid reports he is being shackled in Chinese detention

There are fears Australian writer Yang Hengjun is being shackled with chains to his legs and hands during interrogations at a Beijing detention centre.

Yang Hengjun, left, poses with his family member in Beijing.

Yang Hengjun with his wife,Yuan Ruijuan. Source: AAP

A family friend has raised concerns over the detention conditions faced by Australian citizen Yang Hengjun in Beijing amid reports the writer is being shackled during interrogations.

The 53-year-old Australian citizen has been accused by Chinese authorities of spying since being detained after landing at Guangzhou airport with his family in January.

Now a family friend of Dr Yang has shed light on his detention conditions telling the Australian he “wears chains” and is being “tied to a chair” during questioning.

“His health condition is not good as a result of seven months of solitude from being under house arrest without access to any other people but interrogators,” the friend said.

“He suffers from weakened memory, blood pressure and kidney issues. But he has not collapsed and continues to insist his innocence.”

Australian writer Yang Hengjun attends a lecture at Beijing Institute of Technology in Beijing, China.
Australian writer Yang Hengjun attends a lecture at Beijing Institute of Technology in Beijing, China. Source: SBS / , ICHPL Imaginechina

It comes after The Guardian revealed multiple sources describing the same account of Mr Yang’s conditions inside the ministry of state security detention centre.

Investigators have reportedly told Mr Hung he is being chained because of the gravity of his alleged crimes and that he could face the death penalty.

His interrogations are reportedly lasting up to four hours at a time.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne. Source: AAP

Foreign Minister Marise Payne has previously described the conditions faced by Dr Yang as “harsh” raising concerns over a failure to provide him access to lawyers or family visits.

“We have serious concerns for Dr Yang’s welfare, and about the conditions under which he is being held,” Ms Payne said last month.

Chinese officials have said national security concerns are behind not providing the writer to access to his legal team. 

But Australian consular officials have still been permitted to make half-hour visits to Dr Yang once a month.

Australian writer Yang Hengjun.
Australian writer Yang Hengjun. Source: SBS / , ICHPL Imaginechina

In his account of Dr Yang’s detention, the family friend provides an insight into the conditions faced by the Australian writer.

The friend said Dr Yang is not being held in solitary confinement.

“He doesn’t have to live in total loneliness. He is allowed to walk out of the cell twice a day in the morning and the afternoon, each time for 45 minutes,” he told the Australian.

“Police keep asking him the same questions as … before he was transferred to the detention centre."

“The interrogations have been reduced from every day when he was under house arrest to once a week, which indicates the police have found no breakthrough in evidence.”

The Guardian has reported he is able to drink water and purchase additional food supplies including “fruit, biscuits, and chocolate.”

Australian writer Yang Hengjun continues to insist his innocence.
Australian writer Yang Hengjun continues to insist his innocence. Source: SBS / , ICHPL Imaginechina

He had initially been held under “residential surveillance” before being placed in detention in July and was formally charged on 23 August.

Prior to this, Dr Yang ran a popular blog, had written a series of spy novels and had long pushed for democratic reforms in China.

He was once a diplomat for China’s ministry of foreign affairs before moving to Australia and becoming an Australian citizen in 2002.

Since then he had spent time in the United States as a visiting scholar at Columbia University.

China has previously defended its detention of Dr Yang and spoken out against Australia’s criticisms.

"China deplores the Australian statement on this case," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said at a press conference in August.

"Australia should respect China's judicial sovereignty and not interfere in any way in China's lawful handling of the case."

4 min read
Published 30 September 2019 at 7:55am
Source: SBS