A Chinese-Australian writer could face a harsh sentence as ties deteriorate

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A Chinese-Australian writer could face a harsh sentence as ties deteriorate
Australian ambassador to China Graham Fletcher speaks to reporters outside a courthouse in Beijing where writer Yang Hengun went on rial, May 27, 2021..

Yang Hengjun, a Chinese-Australian writer, could face a lengthy prison sentence following his closed-door trial for “espionage” in Beijing this week.

Yang, 54, an outspoken Australian writer and political commentator with Chinese nationality, was detained upon arrival at Guangzhou Airport on January 19, 2019, and taken to Beijing by state security police officers.

According to foreign affairs ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, his trial took place behind closed doors on Thursday at the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court.

“This case was closed to the public by law because it involved state secrets,” Zhao told reporters in Beijing on Thursday. “It’s completely legal and reasonable.”

Two lawyers were allowed to accompany him to court, but foreign diplomats and journalists were barred from entering due to a police cordon around the courthouse.

Graham Fletcher, Australia’s ambassador to China, stated that he was denied entry due to coronavirus restrictions.

He did, however, add that he had been warned that he would not be able to attend the trial because the case allegedly involved matters of national security.

“It’s deeply regrettable and troubling,” he said. “We have long had concerns about this case, including a lack of transparency, and have concluded that it is an instance of arbitrary detention.”

“Regardless of what happens today,” Fletcher said, “we will continue to advocate strongly on Dr. Yang’s behalf, for his interests and rights, and to provide consular support for himself and his family.”

Zhao chastised Australia for its “unreasonable interference in China’s judicial sovereignty.”

He stated that China had made “solemn representations” to Australia on the matter.

Feng Chongyi, an associate professor at the University of Technology Sydney, said Yang Hengjun’s secret trial was merely a formality.

“At these secret trials, no witnesses are allowed to testify,” Feng explained. “It is based on evidence presented by the prosecution that can not be [read or] checked [by the defence].”

“It’s a perfect opportunity for the government to bring whatever it wants as evidence… because the entire trial is a shambles,” he said.

According to the court, Yang’s sentence will be announced “at a later date.”

According to Feng, the court will not make that decision.

“The sentencing will be decided at a higher level by the [ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s] political and legal affairs, not at the level of the court,” Feng said.

Yang has become something of a political football amid deteriorating relations between Beijing and Canberra, according to Joseph Cheng, a former politics professor at Hong Kong’s City University.

“We don’t know how harsh a sentence [Yang] will receive because we don’t know the details of the charges,” Cheng told RFA.

“In the last two years, Australian relations have suffered some serious setbacks due to ongoing diplomatic disputes and mutual attacks between the two countries,” he said.

“It has been difficult for Australia to provide assistance,” Cheng said. “It might be possible to secure his release and return to Australia if diplomatic relations were good, but that’s impossible when relations are this bad.”

Feng previously claimed that Yang was a former agent of China’s state security police, citing a letter Yang wrote to him in 2011, revealing that he had worked for China’s ministry of state security for ten years, beginning in 1989.

Yang stopped working for the ministry after moving to Australia a decade later, according to Feng’s account of the letter given to Reuters in October 2020.

Yang, according to the letter, worked as a Chinese spy in Hong Kong beginning in 1992 and continued to do so while working as a researcher at a Washington think tank.

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