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Australian Academic Faces Espionage Trial in China

FILE - Writer Yang Hengjun is seen in an undated photo (Source - Radio Free Asia)
FILE - Writer Yang Hengjun is seen in an undated photo (Source - Radio Free Asia)

Australia is urging China to apply “basic international standards of justice” to the case of a Chinese-born Australian writer on trial in Beijing for espionage.

After more than two years in detention, Australian Yang Hengjun will be tried Thursday for espionage in a closed court in China.

Yang has been held in custody since January 2019 after flying into the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou for the Lunar New Year. He was placed under investigation for allegedly harming China's national security, but was later charged with spying, although officials have given no specific details about his alleged crimes.

Yang is a former Chinese diplomat but became an Australian citizen and was based in Sydney. During his incarceration in China, the Australian government said the writer had been held in “harsh conditions.”

Yang has denied any wrongdoing.

Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said Australia is hoping for a fair hearing but has not been given any explanation or evidence by Beijing for the charges.

“I very much hope that we have a transparent and open process,” she said. “We are not interfering in China’s legal system. The concerns that we have raised are legitimate ones, but we do expect those basic international standards of justice to be met.”

Yang’s family said they were “nervous and worried” about the trial because of recent diplomatic tensions between the two nations.

There have been disputes over human rights, Chinese military expansion in the South China Sea and the suppression of democracy protests in Hong Kong. Australia’s call for a global inquiry into the origins of the novel coronavirus, which was first detected in China, also aggravated Beijing, which, in apparent retaliation, has imposed a range of economic sanctions on Australian exports.

Chinese officials have, in the past, accused Australia of “anti-China hysteria.”

In a letter written in prison, Yang suggested his prosecution was “revenge” by China for his outspoken online commentary about Chinese politics.

Media reports have previously suggested that if convicted he could face years in prison or the death penalty.