Australia strongly objects to the indictment of Chinese-Australian writer Yang Hengjun (楊恆均) for espionage, who continues to be held in “unacceptable” conditions, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne said yesterday.
Yang, a former Chinese diplomat turned online journalist and blogger, was arrested in August last year on suspicion of espionage, seven months after he was originally detained in Guangzhou.
Espionage is punishable by death in China.
Australia denies that Yang has ever spied for the nation.
Already strained by Australia’s decision to prohibit Chinese company Huawei Technologies from its 5G broadband network and Canberra’s allegations that Beijing is meddling in its domestic affairs, the detention of Yang has added to tensions.
Payne said that Yang should be immediately released.
“The government strongly objects to the formal indictment of Australian citizen and academic Dr Yang Hengjun in China on suspicion of espionage,” Payne said in an e-mailed statement.
“Crises are a time for nations to pull together. It is not in the spirit of mutual respect and trust that our continued advocacy for Dr Yang has not been acknowledged,” Payne said. “Dr Yang’s poor health makes him especially vulnerable to COVID-19.”
Payne said Australian consular officials have been denied access to Yang since the end of last year, which she described as unacceptable.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Australia should respect China’s judicial sovereignty and stop interfering in Yang’s case.
Yang’s legitimate rights have been fully guaranteed, but consular visits for foreigners have not been arranged by the relevant authorities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ministry spokesman Geng Shuang (耿爽) told reporters.
Additional reporting by AFP
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