Yang Hengjun: Australian writer facing death penalty in China

Who is Yang Hengjun? The Australian writer has just been handed a suspended death sentence by a Chinese court.
Who is Yang Hengjun?

Australian writer Yang Hengjun faces the death penalty after receiving a suspended death sentence from a Beijing court.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong made the announcement on Monday afternoon, saying the Australian Government was “appalled” by the decision.

Yang, a Chinese-born Australian writer, has been held in a Chinese prison for over five years. He was detained on spying allegations in 2019.

Who is Yang Hengjun?

Yang has published novels and commentaries across the world. He had occasionally criticised the Chinese Government in his writing.

He was formally arrested on suspicion of espionage in August 2019, after being detained eight months earlier. He had been awaiting a verdict since facing a closed trial three years ago.

The Australian Government has consistently raised concerns about Yang’s welfare in detention and the management of his case.

Yang Hengjun’s charge

In China, the death penalty can be handed to a person found to have caused serious harm to national security.

In some cases, a death sentence is announced with a ‘two-year reprieve’ condition — meaning a person will not be immediately executed. Today, Foreign Minister Penny Wong confirmed Yang has been handed this kind of death sentence.

It means after two years, Yang’s sentence could be ‘commuted’ (lessened) to life imprisonment. However, the court may still go ahead with an execution at the end of that period.

Australia’s response

Wong called the sentence “harrowing news” for Yang, his family and supporters, and said the Australian Government would be conveying its response to the sentence in the “strongest terms” to the Chinese Government.

Wong has asked to speak to the Chinese Ambassador to Australia so she can express her concerns about the sentence.

Wong said she was advised that “Dr Yang still has avenues for appeal available to him”.

Yang’s health

Concerns about Yang’s health have persisted throughout his five-year detention. His sons raised concerns in a letter to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese last year, saying they feared their father may die in detention due to his declining health.

When asked on Monday, Wong said she was “limited” in what she could share due to privacy reasons, but that she would continue to advocate for “appropriate treatment” of Yang while he’s detained in China.

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