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China: Australian blogger given suspended death sentence

February 5, 2024

Yang Hengjun, an Australian citizen, was held China in allegations of espionage. The suspended sentence against him is expected to be commuted to life imprisonment after two years.

Yang Hengjun and his wife Yuan Xiaoliang
Yang Hengjun was accused of spying for a country China had not publicly namedImage: Chongyi Feng/AP/picture alliance

A court in Beijing handed Australian writer and blogger Yang Hengjun a suspended death sentence on allegations of espionage, the Australian government said.

"He was found guilty of all charges," human rights lawyer confirmed to Reuters news agency, asking to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the matter.

Yang was accused of spying for a country China had not publicly named, while the details of the case against him were not released.

Sentence expected to be commuted to life imprisonment

The suspended a sentence against the pro-democracy blogger is expected to be commuted to life imprisonment after two years, as is the norm in China to commute sentences after a certain length of time.

The verdict comes five years after the 58-year-old was first detained in China and three years after a closed-door trial on espionage charges.

Yang was born in China and was working in New York before his arrest at Guangzhou airport in 2019. He has been an Australian citizen since 2002.

The former Chinese diplomat has been a vocal critic of Beijing's politics.

Australia expresses disapproval

Australia has expressed strong disapproval following sentencing, with Foreign Minister Penny Wong calling it was "harrowing news for Dr Yang, his family and all who have supported him," in a statement.

Wong said Australia would respond "in the strongest terms" and continue advocating for Yang's well-being and medical care.

The Australian government has been actively seeking Yang's release, especially after learning of his serious health issues while in detention.

China-Australia ties in focus

The case has served to highlight the broader diplomatic tensions between Beijing and Canberra over security and human rights issues.

It could be a setback to the thawing relations of the two countries since Prime Minister Anthony Albanese's trip to Beijing in late 2023. Yang's detention was one of the topics Albanese raised with Chinese President Xi Jinping when they met.

In October 2023, Australian journalist Cheng Lei's release after more than three years' detention on espionage charges was widely interpreted as a Chinese concession ahead of Albanese's visit.

ss/kb (AP, Reuters, AFP)