Detained Australian writer to face spy trial in China | Australia

Yang Hengjun disappeared after arriving in Guangzhou in January 2019 and was not allowed to see his family.

The Australian writer Yang Hengjun is due to be tried in Beijing for espionage. He has been detained in China without access to his family since January 2019, friends said on Saturday.

The 55-year-old former Chinese diplomat went missing after flying from New York to the southern city of Guangzhou. He was held in a detention center in Beijing without access to lawyers or his family, although his wife remains in China.

Yang’s Beijing lawyers were informed Wednesday that his case had been referred to the Second Intermediate People’s Court in Beijing, a friend told Reuters.

A judge is expected to be appointed to hear the case in the next two weeks, said Feng Chongyi, a friend of Yang and a professor at the University of Technology in Sydney.

The Australian government said Saturday it learned that the Chinese authorities “have decided to pursue Australian citizen Dr. Yang Hengjun on undisclosed charges”.

Under the Chinese legal system, the charge, evidence in support of the charge, and a proposed sentence will be presented to the court at the beginning of a trial, Feng said.

Deterioration of bonds

Yang’s lawyers had two meetings with him in the past month. The hour-long meeting was the first legal entry after 21 months of detention and interrogation by Chinese security authorities.

Video-linked consular access to Australian embassy officials was restored in September after being suspended due to the coronavirus.

“We will continue to provide consular support for him and his family and stand up for their interests,” a spokeswoman for the Australian Foreign and Trade Department said in comments sent by email.

Yang told his family in a message last month that he was innocent and “would never admit anything I didn’t do”.

Australia has vehemently protested his detention.

Diplomatic relations between China and Australia have deteriorated this year after Beijing imposed trade repression in response to Canberra demands for an international investigation into the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last month, the Chinese Foreign Ministry confirmed that another Australian Chinese state television presenter, Cheng Lei, was detained in Beijing and under investigation on suspicion of a national security threat.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on Saturday.