Detained Australian writer Yang Hengjun releases letter ahead of espionage trial in...

Detained Australian writer Yang Hengjun releases letter ahead of espionage trial in Beijing

Detained Australian writer Yang Hengjun releases letter ahead of espionage trial in Beijing
Yang Hengjun has sent another letter from prison in China.

Australian writer Yang Hengjun says his health is deteriorating and has accused China’s Government of “taking revenge” against him in a defiant message released the day before his long-awaited trial in Beijing.

Key points:

  • In the letter, Dr Yang says he has endured 26 months “without fresh air or sunshine”
  • Dr Yang’s trial will take place behind closed doors tomorrow
  • The federal government says he has had no access to his family since he was detained

The 56-year-old Australian citizen will tomorrow be tried for espionage in a closed court after spending more than two years in detention.

Dr Yang’s supporters say he is being persecuted because he has advocated for democracy in his writings.

Now, some of his backers have released a message they say Dr Yang dictated to a visitor – presumably a consular official or his lawyers – back in March.

In the letter – which is addressed to an unnamed friend — Dr Yang says he has endured 26 months “without fresh air or sunshine” which “has made my health deteriorate.”

But he also declares that he remains “spiritually strong” and vows to “face suffering and torture with resilience.”

“There is nothing more liberating than having one’s worst fears realised. I have no fear now. I will never compromise,” the message says.

A photo of a Chinese-Australian man Yang Hengjun, sitting on an outside table, wearing a navy polo shirt with a red collar.
Yang Hengjun was detained in Guangzhou in January 2019.

“The values and beliefs which we shared, and which I shared with my readers, are something bigger than myself.

“If the worst comes to the worst, if someone wants to take revenge on me for my writings, please explain to the people inside China what I did, and the significance of my writing to people in China.”

Foreign Minister Marise Payne speaks at a news conference
Foreign Minister Marise Payne has said Dr Yang has had limited access to his legal representation.

Australia has repeatedly criticised the Chinese Government’s treatment of Dr Yang, with the Foreign Minister Marise Payne last week labelling the legal process “closed and opaque”.

Human rights groups have also slammed China over the trial, labelling the allegations “baseless” and calling the charges an attack on freedom of expression.

If Dr Yang is convicted of espionage — which is very likely given China’s exceptionally high conviction rate – he faces a sentence between three years and life in prison.The secret life of Yang HengjunThe uniform, the spy novels and a secret life. The breadcrumbs that suggest Australian citizen Yang Hengjun, detained in China for 429 days, was once a Chinese intelligence officer.

Dr Yang seems to acknowledge this reality in his message, although he also says he retains “faint hope that they will right the wrongs and do me justice.”

The Chinese Government has not said how Dr Yang committed espionage or given any details about the case.

Last week, Ms Payne said Beijing had not provided “any explanation or evidence for the charges facing Dr Yang” despite “repeated requests” from Australian officials.

She also called on Chinese authorities to allow Australian diplomats to attend the trial.

But close observers say that’s unlikely to happen. The Foreign Minister’s office did not comment this afternoon when the ABC asked if that request had been granted.

Remaining hopeful 

The letter from Dr Yang also lays out some of his hopes for the future.

He says if released he wants to “write articles to improve Australia-China relations, and that will help China to understand the world, and the world to understand China.”

Dr Yang also says he wants to “go to Australia, a Heaven-like place” as well as seeing the “green mountains and rivers in China” and resuming his research at Columbia University in the United States.

“I have many things to do,” he writes.

Tomorrow’s trial also looms as yet another flashpoint in the deeply strained Australia-China relationship.

Dr Yang’s supporters are worried that political tensions between the two countries will ensure he is treated harshly.

Dr Yang obtained Australian citizenship in the early 2000s and was arrested while visiting relatives in China in early 2019.

Last year, the ABC revealed he worked for a Chinese intelligence agency until 2000, although Dr Yang’s supporters say he later broke decisively from the Chinese system. 

In his message, Dr Yang also hints at a political transformation. He reminisces briefly about Hong Kong, “a place where I worked for six years for the Chinese government, and where I got ignited and developed by its wealthy society and some freedoms.”

He also quotes the French literary giant Victor Hugo.

“Victor Hugo said, ‘supreme happiness is the conviction of being loved’. So you know, I love you all, and I know that I am loved,” the message reads.

“Please bring my love to all the people concerned about my situation.”