Australian writer Yang Hengjun, who has been detained in China since January 2019, is expected to go on trial soon after his case was sent to the Beijing second intermediate court for prosecution. Yang’s lawyer indicated he has been charged with five crimes but said he was unable to reveal details. In August 2019, it was reported that Yang—a former Chinese diplomat and naturalized Australian citizen—had been charged with espionage. Yang was initially 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, but he was reportedly later moved to a Beijing detention center. Ben Doherty at The Guardian reports on his recent indictment:
Sources with knowledge of the case told the Guardian the supreme people’s procuratorate had informed Yang Hengjun and his legal team that his case had been transferred to Beijing second intermediate court for prosecution.
Yang, a former employee of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and now democracy activist, was told on 7 October that he had been officially charged, according to his lawyer, Shang Baojun.
[…] Consular meetings in September were the first time anybody outside China’s criminal justice system had seen Yang since last December – before the coronavirus pandemic swept the world. Australia’s consular agreement with China mandates monthly consular meetings.
The Guardian understands Yang was brought into meetings in handcuffs, a face mask and a blindfold by guards wearing full-body PPE. He was made to sit in a wooden chair fitted with a restraint across the arms that stopped him from standing. The blindfold was removed for discussion, but his face mask remained. [Source]
Last month, Yang told his family he had been interrogated more than 300 times and taken to meetings handcuffed and blindfolded. He also denied all charges against him, telling them “I will never confess to something I haven’t done.” Some supporters have expressed concern that he could be sentenced to death.
Kirsty Needham from Reuters reports on his case and current conditions:
The 55-year-old blogger was detained by Chinese authorities in January 2019 at Guangzhou Airport after arriving from New York. He has been held in a Beijing detention facility with no access to his family, while his wife remains in China.
[…] A judge is expected to be appointed in the next two weeks to hear the case, said Feng Chongyi, a friend of Yang’s and professor at the University of Technology Sydney.
Yang’s lawyers have met with him twice, for an hour each time, in the past month, his first legal access after 21 months of detention and interrogation by Chinese security authorities.
Consular access via videolink to Australian embassy officials was restored in September after being suspended amid the coronavirus. [Source]
Feng Chongyi himself was prevented from leaving China for a week in 2017 while he was there conducting research on rights lawyers.
The Australian government responded to developments with Yang’s case with “disappointment.” From Mazoe Ford at Australia’s ABC News:
“We regret that after a lengthy investigation period, Chinese authorities have stated that he has been charged with espionage,” Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in a statement.
“Our officials in Canberra and at the Australian embassy in Beijing have made repeated requests to the Chinese authorities for an explanation of the charges against Dr Yang,” she said.
The Australian citizen has had no family visits and only limited access to lawyers since his arrest.
“This falls short of basic standards of justice and procedural fairness, and is not compatible with international norms or best practice,” Ms Payne said. [Source]
Yang’s case comes amid deteriorating relations between Canberra and Beijing, and as the Chinese government has detained or expelled several Australian journalists from the country. Cheng Lei, an Australian citizen who works for the official CGTN broadcaster, has been held since August in “residential surveillance at a designated location.” She has received two consular visits but her current conditions are not known. In September, Bill Birtles of Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Michael Smith of The Australian Financial Review both fled China after receiving threatening visits from Chinese security officers. After their departure, Birtles’ former ABC colleague Matthew Carney revealed that he and his family, including his 14-year-old daughter, had been directly threatened by Chinese officials leading to their sudden departure from China in 2018. In recent years, the Chinese government has expelled numerous foreign journalists and detained foreigners in the country on specious charges, notably Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, who have been held for almost two years without trial.