Australian writer to face trial in China

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Yang Hengjun wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera: Australian writer Yang Hengjun is set to be tried in China on charges of espionage.

An Australian citizen detained in China on espionage charges has told his family not to worry even though he expected to be tortured by the communist regime.

Dr. Yang Hengjun, a writer, faces a closed court trial in Beijing on Thursday after being held in detention for more than two years "without fresh air or sunshine".

"I still have some faint hope that they will right the wrongs and do me justice," he says in an undated letter posted on social media by supporters ahead of the trial.

"I will face suffering and torture with resilience. I am growing. I will face each day with dignity."

Dr. Yang was detained by Chinese authorities in January 2019 at Guangzhou Airport after arriving from New York.

Lawyers in Australia are concerned about the academic's lack of access to independent legal representation ahead of the legal proceedings and his prospect of a "fair" trial under the communist regime.

Law Council president Jacoba Brasch said the right to independent assistance should be ensured from the moment of deprivation of liberty.

"And access to effective legal representation should be guaranteed to all persons at all stages of criminal proceedings," she said in a statement.

"This is a fundamental precondition to realising the right to a fair trial."

Dr. Brasch said what Dr. Yang had faced fell well short of international standards.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne says despite repeated requests by Australian officials, Chinese authorities have not provided any explanation or evidence for the charges.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says it is "absolutely untrue" Dr. Yang acted as a spy for Australia, and Dr. Yang has told his family he was innocent and would "never confess to something I haven't done".

Labor senator Penny Wong expressed disappointment that Dr. Yang has not received basic procedural fairness consistent with China's international legal obligations.

Dr. Yang was formally charged with espionage in October 2020 just a month after being first granted access to a lawyer.

Dr. Brasch said under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations to which China is a party, and a bilateral consular agreement, Australian officials are entitled to communicate with Dr Yang, receive information on the charges against him, and attend his trial and other legal proceedings.

"We would expect that any caveats on these obligations - arising from the nature of the charges against Dr.Yang - must give full effect to the purpose to ensure fairness, transparency, and humane treatment for which these rights were accorded," Dr Brasch said.

He faces a lengthy jail sentence if found guilty on charges of endangering national security by joining or accepting a mission from an unidentified espionage organisation.

China has repeatedly cautioned Australia against meddling in the case.

In the letter, Dr. Yang said there was nothing more liberating than having one's worst fears realised.

"I have no fear now. I will never compromise," the letter says.


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