An Australian writer held behind bars in China for almost two years demands to face court as he maintains his innocence on spying charges and accuses local authorities of political persecution.
- Dr Yang was granted a lawyer this week for the first time since being detained in January 2019
- He has declared “I am innocent and will fight to the end”
- Australian officials made a consular visit to Dr Yang at a detention facility via video link
For the first time since being detained in January 2019, democracy advocate Yang Hengjun was this week granted access to a lawyer but is still defying Chinese pressure to confess to espionage.
In a message conveyed to his family and supporters Dr Yang has declared “I am innocent and will fight to the end”, promising to “do my best”, and to “never confess to something I haven’t done”.
“They can abuse me, I have had no access to legal representation — this is political persecution”, the jailed writer said in comments relayed to the ABC from his prison cell.
The statement is the first to emerge from Dr Yang in months and comes just days after it was revealed Beijing had recently detained another Australian citizen, high profile television journalist Cheng Lei.
This week Australian officials made a consular visit to Dr Yang at a detention facility, which was conducted by video link due to COVID-19 access restrictions.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is refusing to comment further, but the ABC understands the Australian prisoner repeatedly stated that he had made no confessions to Chinese authorities while behind bars.
“I was worried that Chinese authorities would make such claims when there can be no (local) media coverage; they cannot create rumours like this,” a defiant Dr Yang is believed to have told officials.
In March, the Chinese Government moved to formally charge Dr Yang over an ill-defined espionage allegation more than a year after first detaining him.
The move prompted outrage from Foreign Minister Marise Payne who lashed out at Beijing and accused the Chinese of failing to inform Australia that authorities had moved to formally indict the Sydney resident.
Supporters of Dr Yang fear the democracy activist has been tortured while behind bars, including long periods of sleep deprivation as authorities work to extract a confession.
It’s believed Chinese authorities are preparing to put Dr Yang on trial imminently, but are growing more frustrated by his refusal to confess to committing any crimes.