Australian writer Yang Hengjun sentenced by Beijing court

Yang Hengjun wrote about Chinese and US politics as a high-profile blogger and also wrote a series of spy novels before his detention

Reuters
Published : 5 Feb 2024, 03:53 AM
Updated : 5 Feb 2024, 03:53 AM

A Beijing court on Monday handed Australian writer Yang Hengjun a suspended death sentence, a family friend said, five years after he was first detained in China and three years after a closed-door trial on espionage charges.

Yang, a pro-democracy blogger, is an Australian citizen born in China who was working in New York before his arrest at Guangzhou airport in 2019. He had been accused of spying for a country China had not publicly identified and the details of the case against him were unknown.

Sydney based scholar Feng Chongyi said a court on Monday delivered a suspended death sentence that would convert to life imprisonment after two years.

He said the verdict was relayed to him by Yang's family in court.

It was a "serious case of injustice", he said, adding Yang had denied the charges. He urged the Australian government to seek medical parole for Yang.

Yang's sentence was confirmed by another human rights lawyer in Beijing who has been following his case. "He was found guilty of all charges," the lawyer said, asking to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Australia is "appalled" at the court's decision and had called in China's ambassador, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said on Monday.

Yang's family was "shocked and devastated by this news, which comes at the extreme end of worst expectations", said a family spokesman in Sydney.

Australia had said it was troubled by repeated delays in Yang's case, and had advocated for his well-being, including access to medical treatment "at the highest levels".

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

A Beijing court heard Yang's trial in secret in May 2021 and the case against him has never been publicly disclosed. He has denied working as a spy for Australia or the United States.

Yang wrote about Chinese and US politics as a high-profile blogger and also wrote a series of spy novels before his detention.

His two sons, who live in Australia, wrote to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in October on the eve of his visit to Beijing, urging him to seek Yang's release on medical grounds.

His supporters have argued Yang should be released on medical parole, and he was told last year he had a 10 cm cyst on his kidney that may require surgery.