Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Aussie writer accused of spying sends Christmas message from Beijing jail

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said it is 'absolutely untrue' Yang had been a spy for Australia.

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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 made him crack.

Reuters reports that pro-democracy blogger Yang Hengjun, who is facing trial on espionage charges, has not been allowed 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 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.

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 his Christmas 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.”

China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said it is “absolutely untrue” Yang had been a spy for Australia.

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.

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