The Australian government has expressed its objections after Australian writer Yang Hengjun was handed a suspended death sentence by a court in Beijing. Yang, who has been imprisoned in China since 2019 on suspicion of espionage, was charged in 2021 with endangering national security. In a shocking turn of events, the court sentenced him to death, which would be commuted to life imprisonment after two years if he does not commit any serious crimes during that period. The Australian government has called this outcome appalling and plans to summon the Chinese ambassador in Canberra to express its concerns. However, they will not recall the Australian ambassador in China.
Yang Hengjun, a pro-democracy activist, has consistently denied working as a spy for Australia or the United States. He was known for posting critical comments about China’s government on social media. His family, along with Sydney-based scholar Feng Chongyi, have argued that Yang’s imprisonment is a serious case of injustice and have called on the Australian government to seek his medical parole. Yang’s health has deteriorated during his time in detention, and he was recently told about a 10cm cyst on his kidney.
Foreign Minister Penny Wong announced the outcome of the court proceedings in Beijing, stating that the decision was within China’s legal system. However, she emphasized that the Australian government disagrees with the ruling. Wong mentioned that Australian officials were not able to attend Yang’s trial in 2021 but reiterated that they have advocated for his fair treatment and basic standards of justice. The Australian government will continue to provide consular assistance to Yang and his family and will keep pushing for adequate medical treatment.
While the Australian government plans to summon the Chinese ambassador to express their objections, they have clarified that they will not relent in their advocacy for justice for Yang. They will explore all appeal options available to him. Yang’s family, devastated by the news, maintained their belief in his innocence and stated that he represents truth, democracy, and respectful exchange of rational ideas. They hoped for his eventual reunification with his family.
Human Rights Watch has criticized the Chinese legal system, calling Yang’s sentencing an outrageous outcome that follows years of arbitrary detention and a closed trial. They argue that the limited information provided during the trial raises concerns about Beijing’s corrupt and opaque criminal justice system. The international community has expressed deep worries over the severity of the sentence and the lack of evidence proving Yang’s involvement in espionage.
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