Australian writer Yang Hengjun has received a suspended death sentence in China, almost five years after he was initially arrested.
The government was appalled at the news, Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong said.
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“This is harrowing news for Dr Yang, his family and all who have supported him,” she said.
“Our thoughts are with them. I acknowledge the acute distress they will all be feeling, after many years of uncertainty.”
The sentence could be commuted to a life sentence after two years if he does not commit any serious crimes.
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A spokesman for Yang’s family said they were shocked and devastated by the news.
“We know our father has done nothing wrong,” they said on Monday.
“He is in jail because he represents truth, democracy, respectful exchange of rational ideas.”
The writer still has avenues for appeal, and the government will continue to advocate for his interests and wellbeing.
Writer Yang Hengjun (left, with wife Yuan Xiaoliang) has received a suspended death sentence. Credit: AP
Yang was first detained in 2019 over espionage charges, and has always denied working as a spy.
The case against him has never been publicly disclosed, and his trial was held in secret in May 2021.
His verdict had been plagued by continuous delays, having been postponed more than eight times since the conclusion of his trial.
In August, Yang expressed concerns he could die in a Chinese prison without proper medical attention after developing a large, 10cm cyst on his kidney.
He had been subject to more than 300 interrogations over 18 months, the family spokesman said, including six months of intense torture.
During his detainment, he was deprived of sleep and had his wrists and ankles strapped and pinned to a chair for days at a time.
And still, he has never confessed, they said.
Yang shares statement
In their statement, the family spokesman shared a letter from Yang.
“Anyone with a little bit of sense and rationality can observe that the progress of China, and indeed of any people or country in the world, has always depended on the free expression of opinions and criticisms that promote progress and improvement,” Yang said.
“Every one of my articles — any one of the paragraphs I have written — can withstand the judgement of the law, of the hearts of men and of history, and every one of them has attempted to contribute to the well-being of the people and the wealth and strength of the nation.”
The Australian government recently welcomed the release of journalist Cheng Lei, who was freed and deported from China in 2023 after three years behind bars.
But the Chinese ambassador to Australia, Xiao Qian, said Yang’s case could not be solved in the same way.