Australian writer detained in China sends defiant Christmas message

Last Updated 23 December 2020, 04:20 IST

An Australian writer detained in Beijing on spying allegations has told his readers to "pursue democracy, rule of law and freedom" in a Christmas message from prison that said 300 interrogations had not yielded any evidence.

Pro-democracy blogger Yang Hengjun, who is facing trial on espionage charges that he denies, has been unable to receive visits from his wife or family since he was arrested in January 2019 after he arrived at Guangzhou airport from New York.

Yang said in his message that after "torture, more than 300 interrogations and a lot of verbal abuse, I am now in a place of deeper retrospective and introspective meditation", according to his former teacher, Feng Chongyi, who is based in Sydney.

Feng also confirmed the authenticity of the message to Reuters.

Yang, 55, had revealed in a 2011 letter to Feng that he had previously worked for China's state security agency for a decade in Hong Kong and Washington, and left the service before moving to Australia in 1999.

He later wrote spy novels that were published in Taiwan, and amassed a large online following in China as a democracy blogger, before moving to New York.

He had denied revealing any state secrets in his novels during an earlier, brief detention in 2011 on suspicion of involvement in the Jasmine Revolution democracy protests.

Australian diplomats visited Yang on Dec. 17, one of the few visits permitted by Chinese authorities this year.

Yang's trial, which had been due to proceed by January, has been delayed by three months.

In the message, Yang said he was "waiting for court", and still had "some confidence in the court".

"Whether or not they judge me guilty will say a lot about whether the court is governed by rule of law or by pure absolute power," he said in the message.

"I have strong faith in humanity, in righteousness, justice and God."

China's foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said last year it was "absolutely untrue" Yang had acted as a spy for Australia.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in October that Yang's treatment in detention, with no family visits and limited legal representation, was not compatible with international norms.

Diplomatic relations between major trading partners Australia and China have worsened this year after Canberra called for an international inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, and Beijing imposed a series of trade reprisals.

(Published 23 December 2020, 04:20 IST)

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