Australia presses for jailed Yang Hengjun’s release as China warns against interference

Australia World
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Australia is urging China to treat a dual citizen charged with espionage in Beijing in accordance with international laws.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne is focused on the welfare of Chinese-Australian writer and academic Yang Hengjun as she endeavours to seek his release.

“I do think it is extremely important – and we have been at pains to say – he should be afforded access to his lawyers,” Senator Payne told reporters in Sydney on Wednesday.

“He should be afforded the opportunity to communicate with his family.

“They are reasonably basic entitlements, and we would seek to prosecute that case.”

Chinese-Australian writer Yang Hengjun at a conference in Beijing in 2010

Dr Yang could face the death penalty if the spying charges against him stand.

Senator Payne has reminded China it must comply with international laws banning torture, inhumane treatment and arbitrary detention.

She has described the conditions of Dr Yang’s detention for the past seven months as “harsh”.

“We want to make it very clear that under no circumstances should an Australian citizen be exposed to any treatment of that sort,” the minister said.

China has warned Australia to respect its sovereignty and not to interfere in the case.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne at a news conference with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

“China is a country with rule of law and Australia should earnestly respect China’s judicial sovereignty and stop interfering in China’s case-handling in any form,” foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said.

Beijing has a long history of arresting dissidents, including dual nationals.

Experts are now urging Australia to update its travel advice for China.

Dr Yang’s Melbourne-based lawyer Rob Stary said the allegations against him were baseless.

“We think it relates to espionage on behalf of Australia, but it’s not specified on the charge sheet,” Mr Stary told AAP.

“We’d obviously be disturbed by that, if it was the allegation, because there is absolutely no foundation for it at all.”

Dr Yang is a former Chinese diplomat who went on to become a pro-democracy campaigner and was made an Australian citizen in 2002.

The 54-year-old was detained in Guangzhou in January after flying into the country from New York.

He has been detained in Beijing ever since.

Chinese-Australian writer Yang Hengjun.

Embassy officials visited Dr Yang in detention on Tuesday, and Senator Payne is awaiting an update.

The Law Council of Australia stands ready to provide any assistance required.

“In China, espionage is punishable by death,” president Arthur Moses told AAP.

“The Law Council decries capital punishment and, as previously seen in other cases involving Australians facing the death penalty in other parts of the world, there is a dire need for early government intervention.”

Dr Yang, who was a visiting scholar at Columbia University and living with his family in New York prior to his arrest, faces between three years in prison and the death penalty if found guilty of espionage.

He also has a doctorate from the University of Technology in Sydney.

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