Zhan Min/Imagine China/Reuters
Chinese-Australian writer Yang Hengjun attends a lecture at the Beijing Institute of Technology in Beijing, China on November 18, 2010.
A Chinese-Australian writer has received a suspended death sentence in China, five years after he was arrested on espionage charges, according to Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong.
Yang Hengjun, an Australian citizen and democracy activist born in China, was sentenced on Monday by a court in Beijing, Wong said. statementShe added that the Australian government was “appalled” by the ruling.
“We understand that this can be commuted to life imprisonment after two years if the individual does not commit any serious crimes during the two-year period,” Wong said.
“This is terrible news for Dr. Yang, his family and everyone who supported him. Our thoughts are with them.”
Yang, 58 years old He was arrested in 2019 At the airport when he arrived in the southern city of Guangzhou with his wife, coming from New York to see his family in China.
It was later On charges of espionage – The accusations he denied.
Yang's case has been shrouded in secrecy. The Chinese authorities did not provide any details about the charges against him, including the country for which he was accused of spying.
In 2021, his trial was held It was held behind closed doors In a high-security court in Beijing, where Australian diplomats were denied entry. Judgment and punishment were repeatedly postponed.
China's court system is notoriously opaque – especially in cases involving national security – and the conviction rate exceeds 99%, according to legal observers.
Yang suffers from deteriorating health while in detention. Yang said last year He was afraid he would die in prisonAfter discovering a large cyst in his kidney.
In her statement, Australian Foreign Minister Wong said Australia had defended Yang with China “at every opportunity, and at the highest levels.”
She pledged to continue to press for Yang's interests and well-being, including appropriate medical treatment and consular assistance to him and his family.
At a press conference on Monday, Wong said she had summoned China's ambassador, Xiao Qian, to explain the ruling, while acknowledging that it was a “decision of the Chinese legal system.”
“All Australians want to see Dr Yang reunited with his family,” Wong said, adding that Yang had “options” to appeal the ruling.
Feng Zhongye, Yang's friend and former doctoral supervisor in Australia, described his sentence as a “barbaric act by the Chinese Communist regime.”
He added, “The Chinese government is punishing Yang for his criticism of human rights violations in China and his defense of universal values such as human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.”
“This is an infuriating political persecution and unacceptable arbitrary imprisonment of an innocent Australian citizen.”
Feng also expressed concern about Yang's health, saying he was now in a “critical condition” and called on the Australian government to arrange Yang's conditional medical release and return him to Australia as soon as possible.
Yang worked as an official in the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs before immigrating to Australia.
Before his arrest, he routinely posted sarcastic comments critical of the Chinese government to his nearly 130,000 followers on X, formerly known as Twitter. He also wrote a series of spy novels.
Although he holds Australian citizenship, Yang is known to spend most of his time in the United States, where he was a visiting scholar at Columbia University in New York.
Human rights groups also condemned Yang's ruling.
Daniela Gavshon, Australia director at Human Rights Watch, said the ruling was “disastrous” for Yang and his family and called on Canberra for “stronger measures” to increase pressure on Beijing.
“After years of arbitrary detention, allegations of torture, and a closed and unfair trial without access to lawyers of his choice – a sentence this harsh is worrying,” she said.
“It highlights Beijing's murky criminal justice system, which is controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.”
This is not the first time that the fate of Australians caught up in national security issues has raised tensions between Beijing and Canberra.
Last October, Australian TV presenter Cheng Li China released him and he returned to his homeland To her family more than three years after her arrest on vague espionage charges.
Cheng, a former business anchor for Chinese state broadcaster CGTN and a mother of two, was accused of illegally providing state secrets abroad.
Beijing did not reveal the details of the accusations against Cheng throughout the three years of her detention, and the Chinese court postponed issuing the ruling several times.
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