An Australian writer detained by Beijing for more than 20 months has been accused of espionage by Chinese authorities.
Sources familiar with the case told the Guardian that the Supreme People’s Procuratorate informed Yang Hengjun and his legal team that his case has been transferred to Beijing’s Second Intermediate Court for prosecution.
Yang, a former employee of the Chinese Foreign Ministry and now a democracy activist, learned on October 7 that he had been formally charged, according to his lawyer, Shang Baojun.
Yang’s wife, Yuan Xiaoliang, told ABC she felt “helpless” after hearing that her husband had been charged.
“He was formally charged in court and according to the charge notice, the authority listed five crimes, however, due to a confidentiality agreement, the lawyer cannot reveal any details. “
Friends told Reuters that a judge is expected to be appointed within the next fortnight.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has previously said the allegations that Yang was a spy were “absolutely false”.
Yang has always maintained his innocence, and in his rare messages to family and friends in Beijing’s opaque legal system, said he hadn’t confessed.
Last month, he dismissed Chinese reports he confessed to espionage, saying, “I am innocent and I will fight to the end.
“I will never confess something that I haven’t done.
The September consular meetings were the first time anyone outside the Chinese criminal justice system had seen Yang since last December – before the coronavirus pandemic swept the world. Australia’s consular agreement with China provides for monthly consular meetings.
The Guardian understands that Yang was brought to meetings with handcuffs, a face mask and a blindfold by guards wearing full PPE. He was forced to sit on a wooden chair with an arm restraint that prevented him from standing. The blindfold was removed for discussion, but his face mask remained.
Yang said he had been subjected to more than 300 interrogations, sometimes for hours in the middle of the night, by more than 30 people.
Earlier this year, sources told the Guardian that Yang had been “totally isolated” in an attempt to “break him down”, without phone calls, correspondence or consular visits. Messages from family and friends, or reports from the outside world, were not passed on.
Yang was told repeatedly that he was in danger of being executed, that his country had abandoned him, and that his family and friends had betrayed him.
In messages from her detention, Yang has always denied making a confession. ” I am innocent. It is political persecution.
“I want to go to court. I was afraid that the Chinese authorities would make such statements when there can be no [local] media coverage; they cannot create such rumors. I didn’t confess anything criminal.
Chongyi Feng, Yang’s doctoral director and associate professor of Chinese studies at Sydney University of Technology, told The Guardian, “This is typical political persecution for Yang’s political expression.”
There are a series of espionage charges under Chinese law, with penalties ranging from three years in prison to execution.
The conviction rate for those accused of a felony in China is 99%, in a criminal justice system based almost entirely on “confessions” obtained through long secret detentions.
The Australian government said on Saturday it was informed that Chinese authorities “have decided to prosecute Australian citizen Dr Yang Hengjun on charges not yet announced.”
Consular video link access to Australian Embassy officials was restored in September after being suspended amid the coronavirus.
“We will continue to provide consular support to her and her family and to advocate for her interests,” said a spokeswoman for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Last month, China’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that another Chinese Australian state television host, Cheng Lei, had been arrested in Beijing and under investigation on suspicion of endangering the national security.
Yang was born in Hubei, in central China. He was previously a diplomat before working in the private sector in Hong Kong and settling in Australia, then the United States.
Author of spy novels, he has been a popular blogger, political commentator and agitator of democratic reform in China for more than a decade.
Yang, who became an Australian citizen in 2002, lived in the United States, where he was a visiting scholar at Columbia University, before flying to Guangzhou with his family in January 2019. His wife and child were able to enter in China, but authorities escorted Yang from the plane into custody.