Politics

'I will fight to the end’: Australian writer Yang Hengjun's message from behind bars in China

Prominent Chinese-Australian writer Yang Hengjun has been detained in China since January 2019. Source: Facebook

In messages delivered this week and confirmed by sources close to Dr Yang's family, he said: "I want to go to court, I will never confess to something I haven’t done."

Australian writer Yang Hengjun has sent a defiant message to his family, friends and supporters that he will keeping fighting to clear his name of espionage accusations that have been made against him by Chinese authorities.

In messages delivered this week and confirmed by sources close to Dr Yang's family, he said: "I want to go to court, I will never confess to something I haven’t done".

"I did not confess to anything criminal.

"Being held for 19 months is unfair. I am innocent. They can abuse me. This is political persecution."

Speaking from Shanghai, China, Dr Yang's wife Yuan Ruijuan told SBS News that her husband rejects the assertions of Chinese authorities that he had confessed. 

"Yang wanted to make clear this isn't true, he has not confessed and he always maintains his innocence," she said.

"The hardest part is hearing that he feels so alone, completed isolated from everyone and everyone for 19 months now." 

Yang Hengjun, left, poses with his family member in Beijing.
Yang Hengjun with his wife,Yuan Ruijuan.
AAP

Dr Yang, a former Chinese diplomat who went on to become a pro-democracy campaigner, could face the death penalty if the spying charges against him stand. 

The 55-year-old was detained at Guangzhou airport in January 2019 and initially held under a system known as “residential surveillance at a designated location”, a type of secret detention for seven months.

In March, Beijing referred his case to the Chinese Public Prosecutor's Office for charge.

Access to Lawyer 

In a breakthrough for Dr Yang’s case, Ms Yuan confirmed that his lawyer Mo Shaoping had his first meeting with the Australian writer on Thursday.

"I had not heard from him for so long, I wondered whether he was still with us. The lawyer's confirmation of the meeting has given me some comfort but the situation is not good, I do not know a lot, there is a lot the lawyers are not permitted to tell me."

The meeting was face-to-face with a glass panel separating the two of them and lasted about one hour. Mr Mo has applied for another visit to see his client. 

Ms Yuan said she is very concerned about Dr Yang's mental state and fears the long period of time he has spent incarcerated and the interrogations he has been subjected has taken a toll.  

Professor Feng Chongyi, who is a close friend of Dr Yang, believes lawyers were finally given access to Dr Yang because Chinese authorities may be getting ready for a trial to take place soon. 

“Chinese legal system relies very much on the confession to establish a case."

Professor Feng says Dr Yang has been subject to over 300 hours of interrogations since he was detained 19 months ago, sometimes for five hours at a time.

"It is a legal system that is under the control of the Chinese Communist Party, there is no such thing in China or an independent trial." 

Professor Feng, who was also previously detained in China, says he does not believe Dr Yang will be given a fair trial. 

The Department of Foreign Affairs has confirmed Australian consular staff visited the activist on 31 August via video link. 

SBS News understands this was the first visit since December 2019 because they had been denied access due to COVID-19 concerns.

In a statement, the department said it will "continue to provide assistance and support to Dr Yang and his family during this difficult time."

Dr Yang’s long-running detention continues during a backdrop of increasingly frayed ties between Canberra and Beijing.

On Monday, the Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed the detention of Australian Cheng Lei, a television presenter for China's state media.

In the past, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has repeatedly warned Australia not to interfere in his case. The Chinese Embassy in Australia was contacted for comment. 

Foreign Minister Marise Payne has previously called for the immediate release of Dr Yang and has said there was “no basis” for any allegation he was a spy.

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