Australian citizen detained in China faces trial

Australian writer detained in China on espionage charges for two years without ‘fresh air or sunshine’ has told his family there are ‘faint hopes’ for release as he faces a closed-door trial

  • Dr Yang Hengjun was detained by Chinese authorities in January 2019
  • He has reportedly been kept in a cell without fresh air for two years awaiting trial
  • The trial is due to begin in a closed-court manner as he releases a letter to family
  • Scott Morrison has confirmed Dr Hengjun is not a spy for Australia

An Australian citizen detained in China on espionage charges has told his family not to worry even though he expected to be tortured by the communist regime.

Dr Yang Hengjun, a writer, faces a closed court trial in Beijing on Thursday after being held in detention for more than two years ‘without fresh air or sunshine’.

‘I still have some faint hope that they will right the wrongs and do me justice,’ he says in an undated letter posted on social media by supporters ahead of the trial.

‘I will face suffering and torture with resilience. I am growing. I will face each day with dignity.’

An Australian citizen detained in China on espionage charges has told his family not to worry even though he expected to be tortured by the communist regime

Dr Yang was detained by Chinese authorities in January 2019 at Guangzhou Airport after arriving from New York.

Lawyers in Australia are concerned about the academic’s lack of access to independent legal representation ahead of the legal proceedings and his prospect of a ‘fair’ trial under the communist regime.

Law Council president Jacoba Brasch said the right to independent assistance should be ensured from the moment of deprivation of liberty.

‘And access to effective legal representation should be guaranteed to all persons at all stages of criminal proceedings,’ she said in a statement.

‘This is a fundamental precondition to realising the right to a fair trial.’

Dr Brasch said what Dr Yang had faced fell well short of international standards.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne says despite repeated requests by Australian officials, Chinese authorities have not provided any explanation or evidence for the charges.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says it is ‘absolutely untrue’ Dr Yang acted as a spy for Australia, and Dr Yang has told his family he was innocent and would ‘never confess to something I haven’t done’.

Labor senator Penny Wong expressed disappointment that Dr Yang has not received basic procedural fairness consistent with China’s international legal obligations.

Dr Yang was formally charged with espionage in October 2020 just a month after being first granted access to a lawyer.

He faces a lengthy jail sentence if found guilty on charges of endangering national security by joining or accepting a mission from an unidentified espionage organisation

Dr Brasch said under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations to which China is a party, and a bilateral consular agreement, Australian officials are entitled to communicate with Dr Yang, receive information on the charges against him, and attend his trial and other legal proceedings.

‘We would expect that any caveats on these obligations – arising from the nature of the charges against Dr Yang – must give full effect to the purpose to ensure fairness, transparency, and humane treatment for which these rights were accorded,’ Dr Brasch said.

He faces a lengthy jail sentence if found guilty on charges of endangering national security by joining or accepting a mission from an unidentified espionage organisation.

China has repeatedly cautioned Australia against meddling in the case.

In the letter, Dr Yang said there was nothing more liberating than having one’s worst fears realised.

‘I have no fear now. I will never compromise,’ the letter says. 

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