Chinese-Australian writer held for endangering national security: Beijing

Punjab News Express | January 24, 2019 04:51 PM

BEIJING:  China on Thursday said it has detained Chinese-Australian writer Yang Hengjun on charges of involvement in "criminal activities endangering China's national security".

The confirmation came after Australian diplomats met their Chinese counterparts here and called on China to treat Yang fairly and transparently, the Australian newspaper reported.

Yang, a former employee of China's Foreign Affairs Ministry who later gained Australian citizenship and became a prominent writer and outspoken online political commentator, had not been heard from since travelling from New York to Guangzhou last week.

The Australian government on Wednesday said that it was investigating reports about Yang's disappearance, prompting concerns that he might have been detained in his native country.

Chinese Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that Yang, a visiting scholar at Columbia University in New York, was currently held under "coercive measures" in Beijing by the Ministry of State Security.

"According to our understanding, the Australian national Yang Hengjun was suspected of engaging in criminal activities endangering China's national security," Hua said.

Yang has a sizeable following online and has been critical of China's Communist Party. He immigrated to Australia in the 1990s and was previously detained by state security agents in Guangzhou in 2011.

In the years since, he has been briefly interrogated during trips to China but never held for long, friends say.

Earlier on Thursday, Australian Defence Minister Christopher Pyne told reporters during his visit to Beijing that Yang was being detained in "residential surveillance at a designated location", a form of detention where Chinese authorities can interrogate suspects for up to six months at secret locations without access to lawyers or family.

Two Canadians, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, are currently being held under similar conditions - and on similar national security grounds.

Canada and the US have called those two cases a "political retribution" for Ottawa's arrest of Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou, which infuriated China.

Australia has publicly sided with Canada and the US, which requested Meng's arrest.

Australian Foreign Minister Marisa Payne downplayed the possibility that Yang was the latest to become ensnared in the row between Beijing and Western countries.

"At this stage there is no evidence of such a connection" between Yang's detention and Australia's criticism of China's detention of the Canadians, Payne said.

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