Yang Hengjun is a writer and Australian citizen currently detained in China.
He writes political and pro-democracy commentary in Chinese, his blogs and social media have tens of millions of followers. Yang has also written a fictional spy trilogy Fatal Weakness about the competition between US and Chinese intelligence services. Friends describe Yang as charismatic, sharp, charming and funny.
Yang was a diplomat for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, however he developed a strong interest in literature and in 1999 moved to Australia to pursue his dream of being a writer. He gained a PhD from the University of Technology Sydney.
The Chinese government has long targeted Yang because of his role as an opinion maker. He was detained in 2011, but was quickly released following an international media campaign and diplomatic pressure from then Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
In January 2019 Yang was detained again by authorities and accused of espionage after arriving in China as a visiting scholar from Columbia University in New York. He is being held in a state security prison in Beijing and is potentially facing the death penalty. He is regularly interrogated whilst his hands and feet are chained and his health is deteriorating. Yang has not been allowed to see his family or lawyers and monthly visits from Australian consular staff ceased in December last year.
Yang always knew the risks he was taking and in anticipation of his arrest he wrote a letter that he wanted released to activists, asking them to “maintain belief in China’s democratic future and, when it doesn’t put you or your family at risk, to use all your means to push China’s democratic development to happen sooner.” He urged them to work for “freedom, human rights, the rule of law and justice to occur sooner.”
Family and friends say there is absolutely no basis to the politically motivated accusations and it is suspected his detention is part of an operation to shut down political dissent and to pressure the Australian government over its ban on Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei or its position on Chinese expansion in the South China Sea.
The Australian foreign minister Marise Payne has serious concerns for Dr Yang’s welfare and has made requests to Chinese authorities to release him. No letters are being passed on to Yang, however we encourage members to write to the Chinese ambassador in Canberra expressing your concern about his detention and also to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs thanking them for their activism and encouraging them to keep Yang’s case at the forefront of our relationship.