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China sentences Australian author to death penalty

A Chinese court has sentenced an Australian author to a suspended death sentence for alleged espionage. The government in Canberra expressed “horror” and announced that it would “respond decisively.”

Australian author Yang Hengjun has been given a suspended death sentence in China. The court found Yang guilty of espionage, spokesman Wang Wenbin said.

The Australian government had previously informed about the verdict. “This is devastating news for Dr. Yang, his family and everyone who supported him,” said Foreign Minister Penny Wong. The government in Canberra is “appalled” by the decision and will “respond decisively”. She summoned the Chinese ambassador. However, it is assumed that the death penalty will be commuted to life imprisonment after two years. This is generally how these judgments are handled in China.

China has come under international criticism for its lack of rule of law: confessions are sometimes forced, relatives are intimidated, and almost all charges end in conviction.

Yang was critical of China Governing party

Yang had always denied the allegations. In January 2019, the Chinese native traveled with his wife and child from New York to Guangzhou in southern China. After his arrival he disappeared. It was only later that his arrest became known. Yang is known in China as a novelist and blogger. He regularly commented on Chinese politics and was sometimes critical of the Communist Party. He reportedly previously worked in the Chinese Foreign Ministry. The 58-year-old has had Australian citizenship since 2002.

Australian Foreign Minister Wong said the government in Canberra had repeatedly advocated for Yang's interests and health at the highest level and wanted to continue to do so. She demanded proper medical care. Last August, Yang told his family that he feared he would die in detention after being diagnosed with a kidney cyst.

Tense relationship

Australia has repeatedly argued with China over detained citizens in recent years. The relationship between Beijing and Canberra was therefore tense. In October 2023, Chinese-Australian journalist Cheng Lei was released in China, more than three years after her arrest. The 49-year-old, who worked for China's state television, was arrested in August 2020. The prosecution accused her of passing on state secrets abroad.

With information from Benjamin Eyssel, ARD Beijing

Benjamin Eyssel, ARD Beijing, tagesschau, February 5th, 2024 12:51 p.m

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