Australian democracy blogger receives suspended death penalty in China

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  • Yang Hengjun, a China-born Australian democracy blogger, received a suspended death sentence from a Chinese court on Monday.
  • The Australian government, which has consistently advocated for Yang, expressed shock at the verdict.
  • Yang was convicted of espionage and given a death sentence with a two-year reprieve, a common practice in China that often results in a life sentence.

A Chinese court gave a suspended death sentence to a China-born Australian democracy blogger on Monday. The Australian government, which has repeatedly raised his case over the years, said it was appalled.

Yang Hengjun was found guilty of espionage and sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said. Such sentences are often commuted to life in prison after two years.

“The Australian Government is appalled,” Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said in a statement. “This is harrowing news for Dr. Yang, his family and all who have supported him.”

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Yang, a former Chinese diplomat and state security agent who became a political commentator and writer of spy novels in Australia, was detained on Jan. 19, 2019, when he arrived in the southern China city of Guangzhou from New York with his wife and teenage stepdaughter.

He was tried behind closed doors in May 2021. The details of his case have not been disclosed. Yang, who became an Australian citizen in 2002, has denied working as a spy for Australia or the United States.

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.

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Australia “will be communicating our response in the strongest terms” and will continue to press for his interests and well-being, including appropriate medical care, the Australian foreign minister said in her statement.

Wang, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said the court had protected Yang’s procedural rights and arranged for the Australian side to attend Monday’s sentencing, likely referring to a diplomat or diplomats from the Australian Embassy.

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.

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