Australia appalled at China’s suspended death sentence for writer Yang Hengjun

FILE – This undated, file photo released by Chongyi Feng shows Yang Hengjun and his wife Yuan Xiaoliang. Australia says it is appalled at China’s suspended death sentence for Chinese Australian writer and democracy blogger Yang Hengjun. (Chongyi Feng via AP, File)

SYDNEY (AP) — Australia said Monday it was appalled at China’s suspended death sentence for writer and democracy blogger Yang Hengjun.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said in a statement it was “harrowing news for Dr Yang, his family and all who have supported him.”

Yang has been detained in China since Jan. 19, 2019, when he arrived in Guangzhou from New York with his wife and teenage stepdaughter.

Yang received a closed-door trial on an espionage charge in Beijing in May 2021 and was awaiting a verdict.

The Chinese court did not immediately announce the sentence. In China, suspended sentences are generally commuted to life sentences after a certain length of time.

Yang was born in China and was a diplomat and state security agent before moving to the private sector in Hong Kong and later Australia. He became an Australian citizen in 2002.

In August last year, Yang had told his family he fears he will die in detention after being diagnosed with a kidney cyst, prompting supporters to demand his release for medical treatment.

Wong said Australia “will be communicating our response in the strongest terms” and will continue to press for Dr Yang’ interests and wellbeing, including appropriate medical care.

In October last year, Australian journalist Cheng Lei was freed after more than three years in detention in China for breaking an embargo with a television broadcast on a state-run TV network.

The plights of Yang and Cheng had frequently been on the agendas of high-level meetings between the countries in recent years.

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