Yang Hengjun: Australian writer given suspended death sentence in China

Australian writer Yang Hengjun has been given a suspended death sentence by a Chinese court, five years after he was arrested and accused of spying.

The sentence may be commuted to life imprisonment after two years, according to Australian officials.

Dr Yang – a scholar and novelist who blogged about Chinese affairs – denies the charges, which have not been made public.

The Australian government says it is “appalled” by Beijing’s decision.

“[We] will be communicating our response in the strongest terms,” Foreign Minister Penny Wong said in a statement on Monday.

All Australians want to see Dr Yang reunited with his family. We will not relent in our advocacy.”

Dr Yang, who previously worked for China’s Ministry of State Security, was nicknamed the “democracy peddler”, but his writings often avoided direct criticisms of the government.

The 57-year-old was intercepted at Guangzhou airport in January 2019 and accused of spying. His case has mostly unfolded behind closed doors since then, including a secret trial in 2021.

Australian officials have previously raised concerns, but China’s foreign ministry has warned them not to interfere in the case, and to respect the nation’s “judicial sovereignty”.

Dr Yang has been subjected to “more than 300 interrogations” and “six months of intense torture” while in detention, his family says.

Australia’s Ambassador to China has previously accused China of arbitrarily detaining Dr Yang, and his supporters say it is a “political persecution”.

“He is punished by the Chinese government for his criticism of human rights abuses in China and his advocacy for universal values such as human rights, democracy and the rule of law,” his friend, Sydney academic Feng Chongyi, told the BBC in a statement.

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