05 February 2024

Australia appalled at China’s suspended death sentence for writer Yang Hengjun

05 February 2024

Australia said on Monday it was appalled at China’s suspended death sentence for writer and democracy blogger Yang Hengjun.

Australian foreign minister Penny Wong said in a statement it was “harrowing news for Dr Yang, his family and all who have supported him”.

Dr Yang has been detained in China since January 19, 2019, when he arrived in Guangzhou from New York with his wife and teenage stepdaughter.

He received a closed-door trial on an espionage charge in Beijing in May 2021 and was awaiting a verdict.

Yang Hengjun was found guilty of espionage and sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said. Such sentences are often commuted to life in prison after the two years.

Mr Wang said the court had protected Dr Yang’s procedural rights and arranged for the Australian side to attend Monday’s sentencing, likely referring to a diplomat or diplomats from the Australian Embassy.

Dr Yang was born in China and was a diplomat and state security agent before moving to the private sector in Hong Kong and later Australia. He became an Australian citizen in 2002.

In a letter to his sons in August last year, Dr Yang said he had not experienced direct sunlight for more than four years and told his family he fears he will die in detention after being diagnosed with a kidney cyst, prompting supporters to demand his release for medical treatment.

Ms Wong said Australia “will be communicating our response in the strongest terms” and will continue to press for Dr Yang’s interests and wellbeing, including appropriate medical care.

In October last year, Australian journalist Cheng Lei was freed after more than three years in detention in China for breaking an embargo with a television broadcast on a state-run TV network.

The plights of Dr Yang and Ms Cheng had frequently been on the agendas of high-level meetings between the countries in recent years.

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