China tries Australian Chinese writer for espionage

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Uniformed and plainclothes police patrol near Intermediate People’s Court No.2 where the spy charges for Yang Hengjun will take place in Beijing on Thursday, May 27, 2021. Australian Ambassador to China Graham Fletcher , said it was “unfortunate” that the embassy was denied access on Thursday as a trial was due to begin for Yang, a Chinese Australian accused of espionage. (AP Photo / Andy Wong)

BEIJING (AP) – China on Thursday tried an Australian Chinese writer for alleged espionage and denied the Australian ambassador to Beijing access to the hearing.

Yang Hengjun has been detained since arriving in China in January 2019 and has had no access to his family and has had only limited contact with his lawyer, the Australian government said.

Ambassador Graham Fletcher walked to the gate of the Beijing courthouse and returned after being refused entry, telling reporters it was “unfortunate” that diplomats were not allowed to attend At the trial.

His government had been informed earlier that a representative would not be allowed to attend the trial because it is a matter of national security. Fletcher said China only said the accusation against Yang involved espionage.

“This is deeply regrettable and concerning and unsatisfying,” said Fletcher. “We have long been concerned about this matter, including the lack of transparency, and therefore concluded that it was an arbitrary detention.

Authorities have not released details of the charges against Yang, a novelist who previously reportedly worked for China’s State Security Ministry as an intelligence agent.

Yang’s attorney, Mo Shaoping, said the hearing ended shortly before 5 p.m., with a verdict due at a later date, but declined to comment further, saying “the case involves secrets. of State ”.

Yang has denied the charge against him, and although a conviction is virtually certain, it is not known when the verdict will be delivered. The espionage charge carries penalties ranging from three years in prison to the death penalty.

In comments reportedly dictated to diplomats in March and reproduced in Australian media, Yang said the lack of fresh air and sunshine had taken a toll on his health, but that spiritually “I am still strong.”

“There is nothing more liberating than having your worst fears come true,” Yang said.

Fletcher said Australian diplomats last met Fletcher via video link last month and were able to relay messages to his family. Yang appeared to be in good health, Fletcher said.

Australia will continue to “firmly defend” Yang and has seen no connection between her case and the general state of relations with China, Fletcher said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said China was following international practice in banning observers from attending a case involving state secrets.

“China strongly opposes the Australian side’s undue disruption in China’s legal handling of the case and its blatant interference with China’s judicial sovereignty. We have lodged serious complaints with the Australian side, ”Zhao said in a daily briefing.

The lawsuit comes at a time of deteriorating relations between the two countries, sparked by Chinese retaliation against Australian legislation against foreign involvement in its domestic politics, the exclusion of telecommunications giant Huawei from its 5G phone network, and calls to an independent investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 outbreak that was first detected in China at the end of 2019.

Beijing has essentially suspended all but the most common contacts between the parties, while state media and the Foreign Office regularly attack Australia for adopting anti-China policies at the behest of the United States, China’s main geopolitical rival.

Australian journalists Michael Smith of the Australian Financial Review and Bill Birtles of the Australian Broadcasting Corp. fled China in September after taking refuge in Australian diplomatic premises following interrogation requests from Chinese authorities. They were allowed to leave China under an agreement negotiated between the two governments, leaving Australian media without a physical presence in the country.

Prior to their departure, Chinese police questioned the two reporters about Australian citizen Cheng Lei, an economic news anchor for CGNT, the English-language state media channel in China, who had been arrested a month earlier.

China claims Cheng was legally detained on suspicion of violating Chinese national security laws.

China has blocked Australian exports, including beef, wine, coal, lobsters, timber and barley. However, Australia’s most lucrative export, iron ore, still has enthusiastic buyers among Chinese steelmakers.

Amnesty International China chief Joshua Rosenzweig said the allegations against Yang were based on criticism of the Chinese government in articles he published.

“After enduring hundreds of interrogations and being held in inhumane conditions with strictly limited access to his lawyer, Yang now faces an unfair trial behind closed doors. He is still at risk of torture and ill-treatment, ”Rosenzweig said in an emailed statement.

Yang’s case illustrates how China targets political opponents and human rights activists with its opaque legal system, including detention without notice and secret hearings, Rosenzweig said.



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