Yang Hengjun jailing 'arbitrary detention'

·2-min read

Australia's ambassador to China has described the jailing of writer Yang Hengjun as a case of arbitrary detention.

Graham Fletcher spoke to journalists outside court after Australian diplomats were denied observer access to the espionage trial.

They were told the decision was made based on coronavirus restrictions and because it was a national security trial.

"This is deeply regrettable, concerning and unsatisfactory," Mr Fletcher told reporters in Beijing.

"We've had longstanding concerns about this case including lack of transparency and therefore have concluded it's a case of arbitrary detention."

Dr Yang is facing a closed court hearing after spending more than two years in detention.

Ahead of the trial, Dr Yang told his family not to worry.

"I still have some faint hope they will right the wrongs and do me justice," he wrote to them.

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

In a letter published by his supporters, Dr Yang said there was nothing more liberating than having one's worst fears realised.

"I have no fear now. I will never compromise."

Dr Yang has not seen his family since being detained. He has received consular visits but only been granted limited access to lawyers while in custody.

Australia has repeatedly requested an explanation or evidence of the espionage charges levelled against him.

China has flatly refused and warned Australia not to interfere in its legal system.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne was keen to ensure a fair trial.

"I very much hope we have a transparent and open process," she told ABC radio.

"We're not interfering in China's legal system. The concerns we have raised are legitimate ones. But we do expect those basic international standards of justice to be met."

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

He was formally charged with espionage in October 2020.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has publicly declared any suggestion Dr Yang acted as a spy for Australia was absolutely untrue.

Dr Yang has told family he is innocent and would never confess to something he had not done.

He did work for the Chinese intelligence service for many years, but broke away two decades ago and has since become an advocate for democracy.

Labor senator Penny Wong expressed disappointment Dr Yang had not received basic procedural fairness.

Australian lawyers have also voiced concerns about his access to legal assistance.

Under China's international obligations, Australian officials should be entitled to communicate with Dr Yang, receive information on the charges against him, and attend his trial.

He faces a lengthy prison sentence if found guilty of espionage.

China has a conviction rate of 99.9 per cent, fuelling pessimism among his supporters.