Melbourne, Australia – Chinese-Australian citizen Yang Hengjun is expected to go on trial in China on Thursday, charged with intelligence and accused of serving as an Australian government spy.
In a letter written in March and released on the eve of the trial, Yang was strong.
“There is nothing more generous than knowing the worst fear,” he wrote in the letter, which was published in the Australian media. “I’m not afraid now. I’m never going to compromise.
“The values and beliefs that we share, and that I share with my readers, are something even bigger than me.”
The 56-year-old writer, blogger and former pro-democracy activist was arrested in January 2019 upon his arrival at the airport in Guangzhou with his wife and faces a possible death penalty if he is found guilty of “endangering national security with the greatest harm to the country and the people”. The minimum sentence is three years.
The accusation of acting as a spy for Australia has long been denied by the Australian government, which Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the 2019 claim as “completely untrue.” Canberra calls Yang’s arrest “unacceptable”.
According to Amnesty International, Yang may have faced up to 300 interrogations during the time he was imprisoned to date.
These interrogations, said friend and colleague Feng Chongyi, were designed to “get a confession” and “make a case against him.
Feng, a Sydney -based Australian resident and self -confirmed “Chinese Liberalist” himself was detained by the Chinese government for a week in 2017 after an academic visit.
“My imprisonment is the same as Yang ‘s – to try to establish an intelligence case,” Feng told Al Jazeera. “But I’m so lucky that I avoided Yang’s fate.”
Feng said he and other liberals like Yang aimed to “attack the rule of law, human rights and democracy.”
“And of course, by doing that, we are criticizing the current one -party dictatorship and examining Chinese society, especially the relationship between the state and society.”
State security officer activist, novelist
Feng has known Yang since 2005 as “a friend and companion”, describing him as “ideal and aspiring”.
Feng confirmed that Yang had worked at the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) for 14 years at what he called the “provincial level”.
But according to Feng, Yang was disappointed with his work at MSS and began writing spy novels to “escape the profession he no longer believed in. [in] or have any enthusiasm for ”.
Such novels are based on Yang’s own experience of the ministry and while not published in book form in China, have been posted on the internet by a handful.
Yang and Feng first connect online. The first moved to Australia in 2000 and began studying under Feng at the University of Technology Sydney five years ago.
In particular, Feng said, Yang will study the “potential impact of the internet on Chinese Communist rule. So by doing that, he transformed himself into a liberal ”.
After Yang’s graduation, the two collaborated on several joint publications, edited books and ran liberalism and democracy conferences in China.
Feng says Yang’s father – a head teacher and educator – “was followed by the regime [and] there is no good relationship or opinion about the Communist dictatorship ”.
As such, he believes it could be that influence, along with Feng’s appointment, that transformed Yang from a provincial government agent into a sharp-witted democracy activist.
Yang’s status as an Australian citizen made his detention and future settlement into an international diplomatic issue.
In a recent media statement, Australian Minister of Public Affairs Marise Payne said that “despite repeated requests by Australian officials, Chinese authorities have not provided any explanation or evidence. for the charges against Dr Yang “
“Since his arrest, Dr Yang has had no access to his family, and limited, delayed access to his legal representation.”
The statement also raised concerns that the trial was a closed door event, with no Australian officials to attend.
Diplomats were banned by the court on those Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who was arrested a month before Yang and only allowed limited contact with the consul, was tried on espionage charges in March. The two men are awaiting verdicts. Chinese courts have convicted 99 percent of the defendants.
“We convey to the Chinese authorities, in clear words, our concerns about Dr Yang’s treatment and the lack of a fair approach to how his case was handled,” Payne said.
“As a fundamental standard of justice, access to justice for observers must have minimal adherence to international transparency norms.”
Australia -based Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Yang’s trial would proceed under Chinese law.
“China’s judicial organs handle cases in accordance with the law and fully protect the legal rights and interests of the concerned staff,” Zhao told Al Jazeera when asked about the case. “Regarding the specific situation you mentioned, I have no information to offer you right now.”
Broken diplomatic relations
Australia has close trade ties with China but ties are strained due to Australia’s call for an on-the-ground investigation into the start of COVID-19 in Wuhan where the first cases of the disease first developed later. about 2019.
Concerns are also growing about human rights abuses against Uighurs, which have included the arrest of family members of ethnic Uighur citizens in Australia.
China has just accused Uighur Australians of “terrorism” and last month Cheng Jingye, China’s Ambassador to Canberra, held a press conference in which he outlined allegations of human rights abuses against Uighur as “fake news”.
Nor is Yang the Australian held by China. Cheng Lei, a high -profile business anchor for CGTN, a state television channel, disappeared in August last year. The following month, he was accused of endangering national security.
The detentions have attracted the attention of human rights organizations around the world.
The head of the Amnesty International Team in China, Joshua Rosenzweig, said last week that “the allegations against Yang show a political push in articles he has written critical of the Chinese government. This is a serious one. attack on his right to freedom of expression ”.
Rosenzweig added: “Yang’s case is further proof that incarceration for lack of communication, coercive interrogations, secret hearings and outright denial of fair trial guaranteed in bad cases are part of Chinese authority’s usual repertoire for targeting government critics and human rights activists.
“Unless China can provide concrete, credible and admissible evidence that Yang has committed an internationally recognized offense, he must immediately be released in all cases that have fallen.”
However, his partner and friend had little hope. Feng believes the trial will not end, allowing authorities to arrest him indefinitely.
“The current environment and the party’s determination to punish Yang means that they will give him a harsh sentence,” he told Al Jazeera.
“This is a gross violation of human rights. I need to appeal to the international community and the Australian government as well to save Yang, and also save the fundamental values of human rights. “
“Yang is my best friend. I have an obligation to save him, to bring him back to Australia. ”