Australian journalists imprisoned in China anxiously await diplomatic breakthrough

Concerns over ‘harsh’ treatment of Yang Hengjun

Video screenshot: Concerns over ‘harsh’ treatment of Yang Hengjun – Sky News Australia 2019

Writer Yang Hengjun is the second Chinese Australian to hit the headlines in recent months because of their continuing detention in China. Yang, who has been an Australian citizen for more than twenty years, was arrested in China in January 2019. He stood trial in secret for alleged espionage in 2021, but so far, no verdict has been made public.

Another Australian journalist, Cheng Lei, also received global news coverage in August following the publication of her letter outlining her appalling conditions in prison on the third anniversary of her detention for alleged spying.

In a recent message, Yang Hengjun has expressed fears that he will die in prison following the discovery of a large cyst on one of his kidneys.

Safeguard Defenders was just one of the numerous international organizations to share the news on social media:

Some defenders hoped that the improving relations between Australia's new Labor government elected in 2022 and the Chinese government might lead to their release. The Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese promised to raise concerns about Yang’s health with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in September.

Hopes of the matter being discussed at the highest level seem to have been dashed by news that Xi is likely to skip this year's G20 meeting.

China has defended its treatment of Yang, with the Chinese foreign ministry saying judicial authorities “try cases in strict accordance with the law.” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin added, “They fully protect the legal rights of the individual concerned and respect and safeguard Australia's consular rights, including the right to visit.”

7News Sydney covered their response:

In its report on the latest developments, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) explained the context of the detentions and ongoing crackdown on free press in China:

Since Chinese leader Xi Jinping took power in 2012, he has been conducting a large-scale crusade against journalism, as revealed in RSF’s report The Great Leap Backwards of Journalism in China, which details Beijing’s efforts to control information and media within and outside its borders.

Tom Grundy, Editor-in-Chief of the Hong Kong Free Press, shared RSF’s media release:

It is no surprise that comparisons continue to be made between the detentions by China and Julian Assange’s ongoing imprisonment by the United Kingdom whilst fighting extradition to the United States. One commentator tagged Australian Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, and Foreign Minister Penny Wong in a critical tweet:

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