By Tsering Dhundup
DHARAMSHALA, Jan. 7: Australian writer and pro-democracy blogger Yang Hengjun has received a suspended death sentence in Beijing, China, on Monday according to multiple reports. Yang, an Australian citizen born in China, is known for his writings on Chinese and U.S. politics. He was arrested during a visit to China in January 2019, and was accused of espionage for a country that China has not publicly identified. The details of the case against him remain undisclosed.
Yang’s history of detention includes a previous incident on March 20, 2011, where he allegedly disappeared from Guangzhou Airport. Commentators speculate that he was detained amid a government crackdown on activists, lawyers, and bloggers following calls for a ‘Jasmine’ revolution in China since February 2011. He later claimed his disappearance was a “misunderstanding” and provided a letter to a friend instructing its release if he were arrested again. In the letter released in January 2019 after his arrest, he urges activists to maintain belief in China’s democratic future and implores his supporters to push for freedom, human rights, the rule of law, and justice in China. He also wrote that his 2011 disappearance, was indeed an arrest, contrary to his earlier explanation.
Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese criticised the Beijing court’s decision, calling it an “outrage.” In a statement on Tuesday, Albanese expressed concern over the verdict, emphasising the Australian government’s commitment to continuing its efforts for Yang’s release. Albanese pledged to pursue all available avenues to address China’s “harsh action”. He reiterated the government’s resolve to make strong representations at various levels to seek justice for Yang.
The sentencing, coming three years after a closed-door trial, has elicited shock and dismay from Yang’s family and supporters.
A suspended death sentence in China gives the accused a two-year reprieve from being executed, after which it is automatically converted to life imprisonment, or more rarely, fixed-term imprisonment. The individual remains in prison throughout. Yang’s supporters have raised concerns about the fairness and transparency of the trial, particularly given the lack of access to legal representation and Australian consular officials.