Jailed Australian activist Yang Hengjun’s health failing, supporters say


Imprisoned Australian writer and democracy activist Dr. Yang Hengjun’s health is failing as he approaches three years under Chinese detention, his family, friends, and supporters say.

It was almost three years ago that Yang was arrested at Guangzhou airport on allegations of espionage on behalf of an unnamed foreign country. He maintains his innocence.

“Sometimes I’m pessimistic and sometimes I’m optimistic,” he said in a dictated statement from prison, made before he was blindfolded and led back to his cell.

“I’m confident I didn’t do what they said I did. I know this, my lawyer knows this, and I think the judge knows this. According to Chinese law, I’m not guilty. But they treat me like dirt here and they tortured me.”

Despite hundreds of interrogations, and, in his words, “torture” at the hands of China’s ministry of state security, Yang says he has not confessed to anything alleged against him, a fact that appears to have further delayed his judgment and sentencing under China’s confession-based legal system. His sentencing is now due by 09 April.

Yang, 54, faced a single-day trial in May, held in secret, after more than two years in detention. He spoke briefly in his own defence, telling the court he was “100% innocent” and submitted about 100 pages of evidence and testimony to support his case.

Yang, and the Australian government, reject the allegations against him. Australia’s ambassador to China has said his imprisonment amounts to “arbitrary detention”.

Yang’s family, friends, and supporters say they are extremely concerned about his deteriorating health and argue he must be released on bail for medical treatment and returned to Australia. However, there appears little chance of his release ahead of sentencing, which has been repeatedly delayed.

China has consistently said Yang’s detention and trial had been conducted in accordance with the law and accused Australia of “gross interference” in its advocacy on behalf of Yang.

“Chinese judicial authorities handle the case strictly in accordance with law and fully protect the lawful rights of the relevant person,” a spokesperson said ahead of the trial. “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.”

In his latest message from prison, Yang said: “I want the Chinese government to open my case and publish it. To provide details to the world, the Australian government, and the country. We should apply to open the case, and you can see for yourself.

“They said it’s about espionage. I hope it’s just about Chinese judicial corruption.”

Yang has been prevented from sending letters to lawyers, family and friends, or receiving them.

He has access to one state-run television channel and some pre-approved books. He lives and sleeps in a crowded room with no sunlight, lights on all night, a communal open toilet, a hard floor and little room to move around or stretch.

Yang’s health has deteriorated seriously in prison. He has severe problems with gout, high uric acid, high blood pressure, impaired vision and dizzy spells.

Friends and family say his worsening health problems are not being adequately treated. “We are concerned Yang is being systematically deprived of proper medical treatment,” a close friend and supporter said.

The Australia director at Human Rights Watch, Elaine Pearson, said conditions in China’s detention facilities and prisons were poor, with only rudimentary health care.

“We are very concerned that Yang’s detention has exacerbated his medical problems and that the treatment in prison is inadequate. The Chinese government should release him unconditionally immediately.”

Australia’s foreign minister, Marise Payne, said the federal government was concerned about numerous delays to the verdict following Yang’s trial.

“Neither Dr. Yang nor the Australian government have been provided with details as to the charges against him or of the investigation, reinforcing our view that this constitutes the arbitrary detention of an Australian citizen,” Payne said in a statement. “We therefore call for Dr. Yang’s immediate release and his return to Australia.”

Yang, whose legal name is Yang Jun, was born in Hubei in central China. He was formerly a diplomat for China’s ministry of foreign affairs, and an agent for the secretive ministry of state security, before working in the private sector in Hong Kong and moving to Australia, then to the US, where he was a visiting scholar at Columbia University.

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 describes himself as a “democracy peddler”.

Yang, who became an Australian citizen in 2002, flew into Guangzhou with his family in January 2019. His wife and child were able to enter China but authorities escorted Yang from the plane into detention. He has not been free since. (Source: The Guardian)