’Risk of torture’: Aussie’s China nightmare
For more than two years Australian writer and democracy activist Dr Yang Hengjun has been languishing in a Chinese prison cell after being snatched by police on his way to a connecting flight to Shanghai.
A writer of spy novels, he has been a popular blogger, political commentator and agitator for democratic reforms in China for more than a decade.
He had been living in the United States as a visiting scholar at Columbia University, but his life came crashing down when he took a trip to China with his family.
Speaking out against the Chinese government for many years, he is said to have taken the risky trip to China in part because his United States visa was to expire in a few months and he was waiting for a residence visa in Australia for his wife and stepdaughter — who were travelling with him.
However, shortly after landing in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou in January 2019, the trip turned into a nightmare.
Sources close to him say he and his wife were interrogated for more than 12 hours at Guangzhou airport before Dr Yang’s wife was allowed to go to Shanghai to drop off her daughter.
Dr Yang meanwhile never made it to his connecting flight to Shanghai, where he was supposed to fly onwards to Australia.
Authorities took him to the notorious Beijing State Security Bureau Detention Centre, where according to his friend, he was bound with leg and hand chains and tied to a chair while being interrogated
He has been suffering in his cell without contact with the outside world ever since.
He is facing allegations of espionage but nobody but the Chinese Communist Party knows exactly what he is supposed to have done.
Human rights organisations say he is suffering from ill health, unable to contact anyone he loves, and is facing the death penalty and torture.
There had been a deafening silence on the author’s case for months on end, but last week Foreign Minister Marise Payne revealed he would face trial on Thursday.
She said the government wanted Australian officials to be permitted access to the hearing, but it had been met with a process that has been “closed and opaque”.
There are serious concerns about what will happen in the judicial process.
The conviction rate for those accused of a crime in China is 99 per cent, in a criminal justice system almost entirely reliant on “confessions” obtained through long, secretive detentions.
The Guardian reports Dr Yang as saying he had endured more than 300 interrogations, sometimes for hours in the middle of the night, from more than 30 people.
Sources told the newspaper that he had been “totally isolated” in an attempt to “break him”, with no phone calls, correspondence or consular visits. Messages from family and friends, or reports from the outside world, were not passed on.
He has been repeatedly told he faces execution, that his country has abandoned him, and his family and friends have betrayed him.
Amnesty International this morning labelled the allegations “totally baseless” and calling on Chinese authorities to guarantee a fair trial.
“This is an outrageous attack on his right to freedom of expression,” Amnesty International China team head Joshua Rosenzweig said.
“Having reportedly endured hundreds of interrogations and been held in inhumane conditions with severely restricted access to his lawyer, Yang now faces an unfair trial behind closed doors.
“He remains at grave risk of torture and other ill-treatment.”
Amnesty added that Dr Yang is not in good health.
“Suffering from memory loss, dizziness, blood pressure related issues and several other serious health conditions, it is crucial that he always be given proper care,” they said.
Yang is one of two high-profile Australians detained in China on spying allegations amid escalating tensions between Canberra and Beijing.
If convicted of espionage Dr Yang, who also goes by his pen name Yang Hengjun, could face the death penalty.
“Despite repeated requests by Australian officials, Chinese authorities have not provided any explanation or evidence for the charges facing Dr Yang,” Ms Payne said.
“We have conveyed to Chinese authorities, in clear terms, the concerns we have about Dr Yang’s treatment and the lack of procedural fairness in how his case has been managed.”
But the Chinese embassy in Canberra labelled Ms Payne’s comments “deplorable” and said Dr Yang’s rights were being respected.
“The Australian side should respect China’s judicial sovereignty and refrain from interfering in any form in Chinese judicial authorities’ lawful handling of the case,” an embassy spokesperson said in a statement.
Another Australian, TV anchor Cheng Lei has been held since August accused of “supplying state secrets overseas”.
Diplomatic relations between China and Australia have plummeted since Canberra called for an independent probe into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic and banned telecoms giant Huawei from building Australia’s 5G network.
China has already imposed tariffs or disrupted more than a dozen key industries, including wine, barley and coal, decimating exports.
In September, two Australian journalists were rushed out of China after police sought to question them. Beijing has accused Canberra of raiding the homes of Chinese state media journalists as Australia investigates an alleged campaign of covert influence.