Australia slams China’s treatment of writer

December 03, 2019

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SYDNEY: Australia’s for­e­­i­gn minister on Monday said the treatment of a writer detained in China was “unacceptable”, as his lawyer reported he was being shackled and subjected to daily interrogation.

Yang Hengjun, an Australian citizen, has been detained in China since January and was recently charged with spying, which could bring a lengthy prison sentence.

In an unusually frank statement, Marise Payne said she was “very concerned by reports from a recent consular visit” that claimed Yang had been isolated from the outside world and interrogated while restrained.

“This is unacceptable,” she said, adding that repeated requests had been made for Yang to get “basic standards of justice, procedural fairness and humane treatment”.

The consular visit revealed Yang was undergoing repetitive daily interrogations and being “shackled by the hands and feet”, his lawyer Sarah Condon said.

Letters were also being withheld “to cut off the conduit of information from Dr Yang to the outside world, and from the outside world to Dr Yang”, she said.

But China’s foreign ministry denied the allegations of torture on Monday, describing Yang’s health condition as “good”.

“There is no problem of so-called torture or cruelty,” said Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying at a regular press briefing.

Yang reportedly once worked in China’s foreign affairs ministry in Hainan province — although this has been denied by Beijing. He is believed to have left mainland China for Hong Kong in 1992 and then travelled to the United States five years later, where he worked for the Atlantic Council think tank.

He later took up Aus­tralian citizenship — al­th­ough Beijing does not recognise dual nationality — and wrote a series of spy novels and a popular Chinese-language blog.

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2019