Writer Yang Hengjun Charged With Spying

Writer Yang Hengjun Charged With Spying

Seven months after being detained by Chinese authorities shortly after landing in Guangzhou, Yang Hengjun was last week formally arrested on espionage charges. At CNN, Angus Watson and Steven Jiang report:

His charges were announced by the Australian government. Yang’s Melbourne-based lawyer, Rob Stary, said few details had been released about the case beyond the spying charges.

“We don’t know whether he’s accused of spying on behalf of a third party actor — a foreign government such as Australia or the US,” Stary said. “We know him as a blogger and democracy activist — so we can’t conceive of any other actions outside of his role as a political agitator.”

Stary said the spying charges were worrying. Espionage can carry the death penalty in China, though Stary said it was “not within our contemplation that this case will attract that penalty.

[…] He was detained in the city of Guangzhou in January, while he and his wife were visiting from New York, where Yang was a visiting scholar at Columbia University. Yang’s wife, Yuan Xiaoliang — a Chinese citizen with Australian permanent residency — has been issued an exit ban preventing her from leaving China, Stary said.

At a regular press briefing Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang confirmed Yang’s arrest and said the case was “under further investigation.” [Source]

Yang, a former employee at China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs who became an Australian citizen in the early 2000s and now writes English spy novels, was held under “residential surveillance at a designated location,” a type of secret detention that allows authorities to hold someone for up to six months without access to a lawyer or family contact. He was reportedly moved to a Beijing detention center last month, ahead of his official arrest.

An update from CNN’s Watson and Jiang relays comments from Australia’s prime minister denying that Yang is a spy:

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has described China’s accusation that an Australian citizen detained in Beijing had acted as a spy as “absolutely untrue”

Morrison pledged to “stand up” for Yang Hengjun who was arrested on espionage charges in Beijing, seven months after being detained in southern China.

“These suggestions that he’s acted as a spy for Australia are absolutely untrue and we’ll be protecting and seeking to support our citizen, as we have been doing now for some period of time,” Morrison told CNN affiliate Nine Network’s Today program.

“We make no apologies for standing up for one of our citizens,” added Morrison.

[…] Marise Payne, Australia’s minister for foreign affairs, said in a statement that Canberra was “very concerned” about Yang, who was moved to a detention center in Beijing in July, after six months of house arrest. [Source]

The Associated Press reports on Yang urging Canberra to apply diplomatic pressure towards his release and his expression of thanks to the Australian PM, and also relays a response to the PM’s comments from China’s foreign ministry:

Yang Hengjun said in a statement released by a Sydney-based friend on Thursday that he was “extremely grateful” to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Foreign Minister Marise Payne, other Australian lawmakers and diplomats “for their help.”

“I implore the prime minister to help me go home as soon as possible,” Yang, 54, said in the statement provided to The Associated Press by Feng Chongyi, an academic who was detained in China for two weeks in 2017 while researching human rights lawyers.

[…] Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Morrison’s comments “completely confuse right and wrong and contradict themselves.”

“On the one hand, they said they respect China’s judicial sovereignty and will not interfere in China’s judicial procedures. On the other hand, they keep making irresponsible remarks on affairs falling within China’s sovereignty and trying to blame and pressure us,” Geng said. [Source]

The Committee to Protect Journalists has called for the immediate release of Yang Hengjun:

Chinese authorities should immediately release Yang Hengjun and drop all charges against him, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

[…] “Chinese authorities seem to have a basic confusion that writing about espionage is the same thing as practicing it,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Washington, D.C. “Yang Hengjun should be freed immediately and allowed to pursue his work as a commentator.”

[…] In 2011, CPJ reported that Yang disappeared in Guangzhou for several days and was suspected of having been detained by police. Yang later called that disappearance a “misunderstanding,” according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

At least 47 journalists were imprisoned in China for their work as of December 2, 2018, according to CPJ’s annual prison census, making it the second largest jailer of journalists worldwide, after Turkey. [Source]

On Twitter, Peter Dahlin, a Swedish legal aid activist who was detained in China in 2016 and deported after being forced to confess on state television, offers a thread describing his experience in “residential surveillance at a designated location” (RSDL) while being investigated for “espionage” in China:


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