China postpones sentencing of Aust writer

·2-min read

China has postponed the announcement of the sentencing of Chinese-Australian citizen Yang Hengjun, whose trial for espionage charges began this week in Beijing.

The spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry reported during the daily press conference on Thursday that the court would render its verdict later, but did not give a firm date.

The court denied Australian Ambassador to China Graham Fletcher from attending the trial. Fletcher said he was told he couldn't enter due to COVID-19 protocols.

Previously, the Foreign Ministry had informed him the hearing would be behind closed doors because the trial included questions of national security.

According to Article 188 of China's Criminal Procedure Law, "cases related to state secrets or private personal information may not be tried publicly" but "the court has to provide the reason why the trial is conducted behind closed doors".

"It is unsatisfactory, worrisome and regrettable," Fletcher told reporters after he was denied access to courtrooms.

"We have long had concerns about this case, including the lack of transparency, and therefore we have concluded that it is an example of arbitrary detention," he said, adding that Yang was in good health.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Beijing has filed a formal complaint with Australia for its "interference in China's judicial sovereignty," according to state press.

Yang, a former official of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, was arrested in China in 2019, and charged with espionage in October, according to his lawyer, after being detained for 26 months in an unknown place "without fresh air or natural light".

Born in China, Yang subsequently obtained Australian citizenship, and was residing with his family in New York when in early 2019 he was arrested in the southeastern Chinese city of Guangzhou while on a stopover on his way to Australia.

"The charges against Yang appear to be politically motivated charges for articles he wrote that were critical of the Chinese government. It is an intolerable attack on his right to freedom of expression," the director of the China branch of Amnesty International Joshua Rosenzweig said.

In addition to Yang, China is keeping Cheng Lei, Chinese-Australian presenter of state television channel CGTN, in custody after being detained in August and formally arrested in March this year "on suspicion of supplying state secrets abroad."

Australia and China are going through a difficult time in their relations, with diplomatic and commercial tensions.

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