Yang Hengjun’s Uncertain Whereabouts (Updated)

“Friends, this afternoon I was finally able to contact Dr Yang. He is recovering: this has all been a misundertanding, and he will able to get online in the coming two days. He asked me to wish everyone well, and express his gratitude for everyone’s concern and his regret for the trouble this has caused.”

This message was left by an assistant on Yang Hengjun’s Twitter account on Wednesday. Other reports, however, suggest that the Chinese-Australian writer, who appears to have been detained since Sunday, remains in custody, but may soon be freed. From the Sydney Morning Herald:

HOPES remain that Australian writer Yang Hengjun could be released and a diplomatic crisis averted, after he told a close confidant yesterday they would meet face-to-face “within days” ….

Dr Yang’s phone was switched on yesterday, although it mostly rang unanswered, and he told several friends and relatives he was in hospital but otherwise was fine. Sources close to Dr Yang expressed hope he would not be pushed through China’s capricious legal system, noting that his messages were carefully worded and possibly designed as an attempt by security officials to execute a face-saving backdown ….

Yesterday the Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed Dr Yang had been in contact with his family and it also reminded Beijing the consular agreement between both countries requires notification of any detention within three days.

That period is presumed to have begun shortly after he phoned a friend to say he was being followed on Sunday afternoon, and would have ended late yesterday.

Elsewhere, the Herald reported the Australian government’s reaction to Yang’s situation:

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade says Dr Yang’s circumstances remain unclear.

“We are aware Dr Yang spoke to his family on 30 March, 2011 to say he was well,” a DFAT spokesperson said.

“We are seeking urgently to speak to him directly to confirm his situation.” …

Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd is yet to comment on the case. But government backbencher Michael Danby says Dr Yang’s apparent detention was “unacceptable”….

“We’re getting a bit sick and tired in this country of Australian citizens being arrested by the Chinese state.

“It’s very contemptuous and it’s actually provocative before the prime minister arrives there.”

The Associated Press spoke to Feng Chongyi, a friend of Yang’s and associate professor of China Studies at Sydney’s University of Technology:

Feng said one of his students in Guangzhou was able to phone Yang on Wednesday. Yang told the student he was in a hospital but was healthy and had been out of contact because his cellphone ran out of power.

“We have a very bizarre situation now,” Feng said.

“It’s my guess that the authorities just want the situation to calm down and then will let him walk away, but he has to deny that he was held by authorities until he leaves China,” he added ….

Feng said he had been unable to contact Yang from Sydney by phone but had been told by the student of the contact by email. The Associated Press was also unable to contact Yang by phone Wednesday.

A New York Times article includes accounts from two friends who had been able to speak to Yang:

One friend, Li Huizhi, wrote that Mr. Yang had said everything was “a misunderstanding.” Another friend, Wu Jiaxiang, told Reuters that Mr. Yang coughed a few times.

“It’s impossible for me to say whether Yang was really in the hospital,” he said.

March 31 Update: The AP spoke with Yang Hengjun by phone, during which he provided few details on his whereabouts for the previous two days:

In a brief phone interview with The Associated Press on Thursday, Yang Hengjun also said he is recovering but declined to elaborate. He expressed thanks to the public and the Australian government for their concern.

“I’m OK right now. Everything is OK. I’m just recovering,” he said. “This trouble is caused by me.”

Yang, who sounded flustered but relieved, said he is heading to Hong Kong on Saturday and then back home to Australia.

Though Yang gave no details during his phone call, he posted a longer explanation on Twitter late Thursday night.

“Due to personal reasons, on the night of March 27, I temporarily lost contact with family and friends for more than 50 hours, creating a great disturbance. I deeply apologize,” he wrote in Chinese.

See also: Yang Hengjun Free? (And Who Is He?) on CDT.