An Australian writer and democracy activist who has been detained in China for 19 months on espionage charges vowed he is “innocent and will fight to the end”.
Yang Hengjun, in his first external communication in months revealed he’s been interrogated more than 300 times and taken to meetings handcuffed and blindfolded.
In a message to his family, Yang said “I will never confess to something I haven’t done”.
Yang, who has been held in China on spying charges for 19 months without facing trial, has been allowed meetings with his lawyer and Australian diplomats this week.
The meetings are the first time anybody outside China’s criminal justice system has seen Yang since December. Australia’s consular agreement with China mandates monthly consular meetings.
Yang said he had endured more than 300 interrogations, sometimes for hours in the middle of the night, from more than 30 people. “It was not always clear what authority they represented,” he said.
Up until a few days ago, he was being interrogated – with the same questions repeated over and over – for up to five hours a day, every day for 20 days, he said. The questions were without consistent focus, ranging over Australia, the US, and Chinese political activity.
In his cell inside the Beijing state security detention centre, which he shares with four others and where the lights are on 24 hours a day, Yang has access to food and water, and can buy books to read. He sleeps on a wooden platform and is allowed to shower twice a week.
Yang has reported his health is “OK” – he has blood pressure and prostate conditions – but that he feels “very isolated”.
In March, China’s ministry of foreign affairs told the Australian embassy in Beijing Yang had confessed to the allegations of espionage against him. Yang denies making any confession.
“I want to go to court,” he said. “I was worried that Chinese authorities would make such claims when there can be no (local) media coverage; they cannot create rumours like this. I did not confess to anything criminal.”
He said being held for 19 months was unfair and an abuse of the legal process. “I am innocent. This is political persecution.”
The Australian government has said similar: the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, said allegations Yang was a spy were “absolutely untrue”. The government confirmed a consular meeting – conducted online – with Yang this week.
Yang’s Beijing lawyer, Shang Baojun, told the Guardian he met with Yang on Thursday for just over an hour.
Yang, 55, whose legal name in Yang Jun, was born in Hubei in central China. He was formerly a diplomat for China’s ministry of foreign affairs, before working in the private sector in Hong Kong and moving to Australia, then to the US.
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.
Yang, who became an Australian citizen in 2002, had been living in the United States, where he was a visiting scholar at Columbia University.
He flew into Guangzhou with his family in January 2019, where he was arrested at the airport. His wife and child were able to enter China, but authorities escorted Yang from the plane into detention.
Yang is one of several Australians detained in the country. Cheng Lei, an Australian television presenter on China’s state-run English news channel CGTN, was arrested in Beijing last month and remains in detention. KarmGilespie, an Australian actor, was sentenced to death in China in June for drug smuggling. His friends claim he has been set up.
In July, the Australian government updated its information for Australians travelling to China, warning they could be at increased risk of arbitrary detention. (Source: The Guardian)