SYDNEY — A Beijing court on Monday handed Australian writer Yang Hengjun a suspended death sentence, a family friend said, five years after he was first detained in China and three years after a closed-door trial on espionage charges.
Yang, a pro-democracy blogger, is an Australian citizen born in China who was working in New York before his arrest at Guangzhou airport in 2019. He had been accused of spying for a country China had not publicly identified and the details of the case against him are unknown.
Sydney-based scholar Feng Chongyi said a court on Monday delivered a suspended death sentence that would convert to life imprisonment after two years.
He said the verdict was relayed to him by Yang’s family in court.
It is a “serious case of injustice,” he said, adding Yang had denied the charges. He urged the Australian government to seek medical parole for Yang.
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said in a statement in January that the Australian government was “deeply troubled by the ongoing delays in his case,” noting he had been detained for five years without a verdict and was advocating for his well-being “at the highest levels.”
The Chinese foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
A Beijing court heard Yang’s trial in secret in May 2021 and the case against him has never been publicly disclosed. He has denied working as a spy for Australia or the United States.
Yang wrote about Chinese and U.S. politics as a high-profile blogger and also penned a series of spy novels before his detention.
His two sons, who live in Australia, wrote to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in October on the eve of his visit to Beijing, urging him to seek Yang’s release on medical grounds.