Outspoken Australian writer Yang Hengjun formally charged with ‘espionage’ in China

The Australian writer and commentator who has been held in China since 2019 has formally been charged with espionage, according to his lawyer.

Yang Hengjun with his wife,Yuan Ruijuan.

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

Australian writer and commentator Yang Hengjun has been formally charged with espionage in China, where he has been held since January 2019.

His lawyer Shang Baojun told the ABC Dr Yang was officially charged on 7 October, but declined to provide more information.

The 55 year old has been held in China for almost two years after being arrested there while on a trip.

His friends said the case had been transferred to the Beijing Second Intermediate People's Court with a judge to be appointed within the next fortnight.

Feng Chongyi, a friend of Dr Yang’s and professor at the University of Technology Sydney, told Reuters that a judge will within weeks be appointed to hear the case in the Beijing Second Intermediate People’s Court.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in a statement said they had recently visited Dr Yang while in detention and continued to provide consular assistance.

“Australia has been informed that the Chinese authorities have decided to prosecute Australian citizen Dr Yang Hengjun on charges yet to be announced,” a DFAT spokesperson said.

When asked about the matter on Saturday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters he didn’t think it would be “helpful” to provide extensive commentary on the issue.

“There should be transparency, there should be a fair and just process,” Mr Morrison said in Queensland. "There is no reason why we shouldn't expect the same for any Australian wherever they are in the world, including in the PRC.

"We'll continue to provide that support there and work with the process that's been established. The system there is very different to the system here in Australia and that can cause some anxiety."

Dr Yang has always maintained his innocence and in September he sent a defiant message to friends and family saying he wanted his day in court and that he would not confess to any crimes he had not committed.

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

"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,” he said.

Professor Caitlin Byrne, Director of the Griffith Asia Institute, told SBS News deteriorating diplomatic relations further complicated negotiations.

"When diplomatic relations are not great, those channels of communicating - those operations for leverage - are constrained," she said.

Diplomatic relations between China and Australia have deteriorated this year, with Beijing imposing trade reprisals after Canberra led calls for an international inquiry into the source of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last month China's foreign ministry confirmed another Australian, Chinese state television host Cheng Lei, had been detained in Beijing and was being investigated on suspicion of endangering national security.

The Chinese foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on Saturday.

With AAP. 

Published 10 October 2020 at 2:11pm, updated 10 October 2020 at 6:58pm
By Jarni Blakkarly