Yang Hengjun: Australian writer faces spying charges in China

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Yang Hengjun is a popular blogger and former Chinese diplomat

Chinese-Australian writer Yang Hengjun has been formally arrested on espionage charges in China, Australian officials have confirmed.

The Australian citizen has been held in Beijing since January under “harsh conditions”, said the foreign ministry.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Australia was “very concerned and disappointed” to learn of the arrest.

“We have serious concerns for Dr Yang’s welfare, and about the conditions under which he is being been held,” she said.

Australia has repeatedly urged China to release Dr Yang, who had been held without charge for more than seven months.

He was formally charged on 23 August, Ms Payne said.

“If Dr Yang is being held for his political beliefs, he should be released,” Ms Payne said in a strongly worded statement on Tuesday.

“I will continue to advocate strongly on behalf of Dr Yang to ensure a satisfactory explanation of the basis for his arrest, that he is treated humanely and that he is allowed to return home.”

Before his detention, Mr Yang, a former Chinese diplomat and author, wrote a popular Chinese-language blog on current affairs in China and international relations.

He was active on Chinese social media and Twitter, where he has more than 130,000 followers.

The New York-based writer had travelled to China in January with his wife Yuan Ruijuan and her child – both Chinese citizens – when he was detained at the airport.

China has held him for alleged “involvement in criminal activities endangering China’s national security” ever since.

In that time he had also not been allowed access to his lawyers or family visits, Australia said.

Only Australian embassy officials have been allowed access to him, and had visited him seven times.

A visit had been approved for today, Ms Payne confirmed.