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Health fears of Australian blogger detained in China for three years for espionage

People walk past one of the entrances to the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court, where Australian writer Yang Hengjun is set to stand trial for espionage, in Beijing, China May 27, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/File Photo

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SYDNEY, Jan 18 (Reuters) – The Australian government and human rights groups have expressed concern over the deteriorating health of Australian blogger Yang Hengjun, three years after his arrest in China, and the court in Beijing has yet to deliver a verdict in an espionage trial heard in secret eight months ago.

A Chinese-born Australian citizen, Yang has written about Chinese democracy and US politics online as a high profile blogger and has also written a series of spy novels.

Just before he was detained at Guangzhou airport three years ago on Wednesday, he was living in New York, where he was a visiting scholar at Columbia University. He denied working as a spy for Australia or the United States. Read more

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China’s Foreign Ministry previously said that “judicial authorities handled the case in strict accordance with the law, (and) fully protected Yang Hengjun’s litigation rights.” Read more

Diplomatic relations between Australia and China have deteriorated sharply since 2019, when Yang was arrested, with China imposing trade sanctions on some imports from Australia and reacting angrily to his call for an international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus.

In messages to friends and family dictated from prison, Yang said he wavered between pessimism and optimism, and wanted the Chinese government to openly release the details of his case.

“When I was on the outside, one of my goals was to uphold the rule of law. I didn’t think I would end up being a victim of rule by power,” Yang wrote in a message. broadcast by friends and seen by Reuters.

Australian diplomats were denied access to Beijing’s No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court last May, where Yang was tried on unspecified espionage charges, as China said the case involved secrets of ‘State.

Chinese courts have a conviction rate well over 99%, and public and media access to sensitive trials is generally limited.


Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne has called for his release and said Yang has had no access to his family and only limited and delayed access to lawyers since he was detained by Chinese authorities. three years ago.

“We are very concerned that the verdict in this trial has suffered numerous delays,” she said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Neither Dr Yang nor the Australian Government have received details of the charges against him or the investigation, which reinforces our view that this constitutes the arbitrary detention of an Australian citizen.”

Australia was “extremely concerned about the health of Dr Yang”, she added, and called on the Chinese authorities to meet their obligations to provide treatment.

Human Rights Watch Australian director Elaine Pearson said conditions in Chinese detention centers were poor.

“We are very concerned that Yang’s detention has exacerbated his medical problems and that the treatment in prison is inadequate,” she said.

Yang’s friends told Reuters that his health issues were worsening, including gout, dizziness, inability to walk at times, high blood pressure and blood tests that showed he was at risk of kidney failure.

Any hope that he will be released for medical treatment cannot materialize until he is sentenced, which has been delayed until April, his supporters have said.

Chongyi Feng, a professor at the University of Technology Sydney, Yang’s former professor, told Reuters that Yang said in a message that he had “committed no crime, let alone espionage”.

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Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Alex Richardson

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.