SYDNEY (AP) — Australia said Monday it was appalled at China’s suspended death sentence for writer and democracy blogger Yang Hengjun.
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said in a statement it was “harrowing news for Dr Yang, his family and all who have supported him.”
Yang has been detained in China since Jan. 19, 2019, when he arrived in Guangzhou from New York with his wife and teenage stepdaughter.
He received a closed-door trial on an espionage charge in Beijing in May 2021 and was awaiting a verdict. The details of his case have not been disclosed.
Yang has denied he has worked as a spy for Australia or the United States.
The Chinese court did not immediately announce the sentence. In China, suspended sentences are generally commuted to life sentences after a certain length of time.
Yang was born in China and was a diplomat and state security agent before moving to the private sector in Hong Kong and later to Australia. He became an Australian citizen in 2002. China does not recognize dual nationalities.
In Australia, he became known as a writer of spy novels, blogger and political commentator. In January 2019, he was detained by Chinese authorities upon landing in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou.
He was initially held under a form of detention known as “residential surveillance at a designated location,” during which he was denied access to his family and lawyers. Yang was later moved to a Beijing detention center.
In a letter to his sons in August last year, Yang said he hadn’t experienced direct sunlight in more than four years. He told his family he feared he would die in detention after being diagnosed with a kidney cyst, prompting supporters to demand his release for medical treatment.
Wong said Australia “will be communicating our response in the strongest terms” and will continue to press for Dr Yang’s interests and wellbeing, including appropriate medical care.
In October last year, Australian journalist Cheng Lei was freed after more than three years in detention in China for breaking an embargo with a television broadcast on a state-run TV network.
The plights of Yang and Cheng had frequently been on the agendas of high-level meetings between the countries in recent years.