Australian Writer Gets Suspended Death Sentence in China


The suspended death sentence can be converted to a life sentence after two years, pending good behaviour…reports Asian Lite News

Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong has said that Australian writer Yang Hengjun has been given a suspended death sentence by a Chinese court. Calling the Chinese court’s decision “harrowing” and “appalling,” Wong summoned China’s ambassador for an explanation earlier this afternoon, ABC News reported.

The suspended death sentence can be converted to a life sentence after two years, pending good behaviour, according to ABC News report. The Australian citizen, writer and democracy activist Yang Hengjun has been imprisoned in China since 2019 on charges of spying. Yang Hengjun has always denied the charges.

In a statement, Penny Wong stated, “The Australian Government is appalled that Australian citizen, Dr Yang Jun, has today received a suspended death sentence in Beijing. We understand this can be commuted to life imprisonment after two years if the individual does not commit any serious crimes in the two-year period. This is harrowing news for Dr Yang, his family and all who have supported him.”

Penny Wong stressed that Yang Hengjun had further appeal avenues available and the government would continue to advocate on his behalf. The Australian government has petitioned for the release of Australian writer.

As per the news report, Australian officials were unable to attend Yang Hengjun’s closed trial in 2021. Wong said, “We have consistently called for basic standards of justice, procedural fairness and humane treatment for Dr Yang, in accordance with international norms and China’s legal obligations.”

She said, “All Australians want to see Dr Yang reunited with his family. We will not relent in our advocacy.”

In a statement, a supporter of Yang said his family was “shocked and devastated by this news, which comes at the extreme end of worst expectations. They will take time to process.”

In 2023, Yang Hengjun’s family wrote to Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, warning his health was rapidly declining and requesting Albanese to do “all in his power” to secure his release during his visit to China.

Yang Hengjun has been detained in China for almost five years. However, his family has fears that there is a narrowing window of opportunity to secure his release, ABC News reported.

There was optimism among some of Yang’s supporters after China’s decision to release former state TV anchor Cheng Lei h.

Yang’s family wrote, “We have been inspired by the wonderful news of Cheng Lei’s release and return to Melbourne.” The family mentioned, “We hope that you, Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Ambassador Graham Fletcher can achieve a second miracle by saving our father.”

One Australian government source called Yang’s case “very different” to that of Chang Lei, according to ABC News report. Although did not give any further detail.

Daniela Gavshon, the Australia director at Human Rights Watch, said diplomatic efforts had not been enough. Gavshon called Chinese court’s decision “outrageous outcome for Dr Yang and his supporters.”

Gavshon stated, “It follows years of arbitrary detention and a closed trial and it is not evidence of any wrongdoing but really of Beijing’s corrupt and opaque criminal justice system. That someone can be sentenced to death on such scant information is deeply worrying.”

Coalition Foreign Affairs spokesperson Simon Birmingham said he was “aghast” at the decision and called it “a terrible reminder of the stark differences between our systems of government and systems of justice [and] a reminder of the risks that apply in doing business and engaging with China,” ABC News reported.

Birmingham stressed that Yang’s case should be “the top priority” for the Australian government in its talks with China. However, he did not criticise the government or called for any specific measures. He said, “It is important we take these matters step by step in the best interests of Dr Yang.” (ANI)

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