China court’s suspended death sentence for Australian writer an ‘outrage,’ PM says

SYDNEY: Australia Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Tuesday (Feb 6) said it was an “outrage” that a Beijing court handed Australian writer Yang Hengjun a suspended death sentence on espionage charges and vowed to continue to make efforts for his release.

The sentence, handed down three years after a closed-door trial, shocked his family and supporters. Analysts say this was unlikely to derail Australia-China ties but will test the limits of Canberra’s push to put relations back on track after years of tensions.

“We have conveyed, firstly, to China our dismay, our despair, our frustration, but to put it really simply, our outrage at this verdict,” Albanese told reporters in Canberra.

“We will continue to make the strongest representations. We, of course, called in the (Chinese) ambassador yesterday but we will make representations at all levels.”

Albanese said his government would “respond directly and clearly and unequivocally … on this harsh action by China.”

Yang, who wrote about Chinese and US politics as a high-profile democracy blogger, is an Australian citizen born in China. He was living in New York as a visiting scholar at Columbia University and supplemented his income by working as a “daigou” or online shopping agent for Chinese consumers seeking American products.

He was arrested while visiting China in January 2019, accompanied by his wife.

An employee of China’s Ministry of State Security from 1989 to 1999, he had been accused of spying for a country China has not publicly identified, and the details of the case against him have not been made public.

A suspended death sentence in China gives the accused a two-year reprieve from being executed, after which it is automatically converted to life imprisonment, or more rarely, fixed-term imprisonment. The individual remains in prison throughout.

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