Yang Hengjun won’t appeal death sentence

Yang Hengjun has chosen not to appeal the suspended death sentence handed to him by a Beijing court earlier this month. Here's why.
Yang Hengjun chooses not to appeal

Australian writer Yang Hengjun won’t appeal the suspended death sentence handed to him by a Beijing court earlier this month.

Yang is a Chinese-born Australian writer who has been held in a Chinese prison after being detained on espionage (spying) allegations in 2019.

He said his decision is due to a lack of faith in the Chinese legal system, and concerns that an appeal would delay his access to medical care.

Yang Hengjun chooses not to appeal

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.

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

Yang Hengjun’s sentence

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. This is the sentence Yang was handed earlier this month.

It could mean 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.

Yang Hengjun’s decision not to appeal

Yang shared his decision not to appeal the suspended death sentence through a statement from his family and friends.

The statement said there were “no grounds” to suggest the Chinese legal system was capable of “remedying the injustice of his sentence”, and that an appeal could slow the supply of care necessary after five years of “abject medical neglect”.


Yang’s health has been a persistent concern during his detention. His sons raised concerns in a letter to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese last year, fearing their father may die in detention due to his declining health.

Despite his deteriorating physical health, Yang told his family and friends that “mentally no one can destroy me” in a letter sent before his sentencing.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong has said she will continue to advocate for “appropriate treatment” of Yang while he’s detained in China.

What happens next?

Yang’s decision not to appeal his sentence means that advocacy efforts – likely led by the Australian Government and supporters of Yang – remain one of the few avenues left for securing his release.

This could include senior government figures raising the issue of Yang’s detention during meetings with Chinese counterparts. This helped secure the release of Australian journalist Cheng Lei from China last year.

Wong said the Government “understands and respects” Yang’s decision not to appeal. She said they would continue to advocate for Yang “at every opportunity, and at the highest levels”.

“We will continue to press for Dr Yang’s interests and wellbeing, and provide consular assistance to him.”

Shadow Foreign Minister Simon Birmingham said it was now up to the Government “and all with influence” to advocate for Yang’s release.

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