Yang Hengjun: Australian writer detained in China charged
Australian writer Yang Hengjun, who has been detained in China since January, has been charged with endangering national security, according to his lawyer.
Mr Yang has also been moved to criminal detention in Beijing and is no longer under house arrest.
The Chinese Ministry of State Security formally charged Mr Yang through a formal notice at 10:00am Thursday (Chinese local time).
The notice says Mr Yang has been detained under section 85 of the Chinese Criminal Procedure Law, under suspicion of harming state security.
The maximum punishment for endangering national security is life in prison or in serious cases, the death penalty.
Mr Yang had been held under “residential surveillance at a designated location” (RSDL), a type of secret detention where authorities can deny access to lawyers and family, since January.
Being transferred to criminal detention does not bode well for Mr Yang, human rights advocates say.
Friends of his previously believed he would be released following the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre on 4 June.
“While we don’t know the details of Yang’s case, the Chinese government has a record of deploying vague ‘national security’ charges to prosecute peaceful critics,” said Yaqiu Wang, China researcher for Human Rights Watch.
This week, Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China’s ministry of foreign affairs, said Mr Yang’s case was proceeding “in accordance with the law” and that the state had “fully guaranteed” the protection of his rights.
Critics say the pace of Mr Yang’s case shows a lack of evidence on the part of the authorities.
“They haven’t got evidence,” said Feng Chongyi, an academic at the University of Technology Sydney and a friend of Mr Yang’s.
“If they had gotten anything they would have gone immediately to arrest him and would have charged him earlier before the expiry of six months.”
At the end of six months under RSDL, a suspect should be released, formally charged, or transferred to criminal detention.
Friday (local time) marks six months since Mr Yang detention under RSDL, according to his lawyer.
Mr Feng believes how the Australian Government responds will affect how Chinese authorities pursue Mr Yang’s case.
“They continue to do the so-called investigation. If there is no cost to them of course they will take this kind of political prisoner as long as they can.”
Mr Yang’s wife, Yuan Xiaolong, is a permanent resident of Australia and has been barred from leaving China.
Human Rights Watch urged the Australian Government to press Chinese authorities to release her from the exit ban.
Balanced journalism is essential to keeping people properly informed. If you feel our coverage of this story is biased, please let us know.