Australian writer Yang Hengjun won't appeal suspended death sentence in China - family

Credit: REUTERS/CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS

By Kirsty Needham

SYDNEY, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Australian writer Yang Hengjun will not appeal a suspended death sentence in China because the process would delay the possibility of supervised medical care, his family said in a statement on Wednesday.

A pro-democracy blogger and spy novelist, Yang is an Australian citizen born in China who was working in New York before his arrest at Guangzhou airport in 2019.

A Beijing court this month handed Yang a suspended death sentence on espionage charges, shocking his family and supporters, after five years in detention in Beijing and three years after his closed-door trial.

The sentence was described as an "outrage" by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, and threatens a recent rebound in bilateral ties that followed several years of strained relations between Beijing and Canberra.

Yang's family, including his two Australian-based sons and close friends, said in a statement on Wednesday that Yang had decided to waive his legal right to appeal the suspended death sentence.

There were no grounds to believe the Chinese court could remedy "the injustice of his sentence", the statement released to media, including Reuters, said. Chinese courts have a conviction rate of 99.9% and acquittals are rare.

"Commencing an appeal would only delay the possibility of adequate and supervised medical care, after five years of inhumane treatment and abject medical neglect," it added, noting Yang had developed a serious kidney condition.

"Yang's decision to forgo the appeals process does not in any way change the fact that he is both innocent and morally unbreakable," the family said.

TWO-YEAR REPRIEVE

China's foreign ministry has previously said the Beijing court had heard the trial in strict accordance with Chinese law and ensured Yang's procedural rights, and Australia's consular rights.

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.

His family urged the Australian government to seek his release on medical parole, or a transfer to Australia.

Although the details of the case have not been officially released, Yang's long-time friend, Sydney-based scholar Feng Chongyi, said the verdict read in court alleged he had given secrets to Taiwan in 1994.

Yang worked for China's Ministry of State Security for a decade starting in 1989, including in Hong Kong and Washington, before quitting and moving to Australia.

"The absurdity of the 30 year-old espionage accusations that have been dredged up against him speaks to the prosecution's failure to extract any kind of confession," the family said, in their first comment on the matter.

Yang is "an Australian political prisoner who has been sentenced to death because of his writings in support of individual freedoms, constitutional democracy and rule-of-law", they said.

Yang wrote about Chinese and U.S. politics as a high-profile blogger, and was a visiting scholar at Columbia University.

Australia would continue to advocate for Yang, Australia's Foreign Minister Penny Wong said in a statement to Reuters.

"The Australian Government understands and respects the difficult decision that Dr Yang has made with regard to his appeal," she said.

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Sharon Singleton)

((Kirsty.Needham@thomsonreuters.com;))

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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