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Afraid of dying in a Chinese jail, Australian writer accepts life sentence

Jailed Australian writer Yang Hengjun has made the “heartbreaking” decision not to appeal his suspended death sentence in a bid for life-saving medical treatment.

Feb 21, 2024, updated Feb 21, 2024
--FILE--Chinese-Australian writer Yang Hengjun attends a lecture at Beijing Institute of Technology in Beijing, China, 18 November 2010. China has detained a Chinese-Australian writer who had flown in from New York last week, the Australian government said, adding it was trying to find out why he was being held. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said Chinese authorities on Wednesday had informed the Australian embassy in Beijing that they had detained Yang Hengjun.  (Imaginechina via AP Images)

--FILE--Chinese-Australian writer Yang Hengjun attends a lecture at Beijing Institute of Technology in Beijing, China, 18 November 2010. China has detained a Chinese-Australian writer who had flown in from New York last week, the Australian government said, adding it was trying to find out why he was being held. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said Chinese authorities on Wednesday had informed the Australian embassy in Beijing that they had detained Yang Hengjun. (Imaginechina via AP Images)

Dr Yang was found guilty on espionage charges in China in February after spending five years in prison.

He will still face the prospect of life behind bars at the end of a two-year suspended death sentence.

In a letter written by Dr Yang’s family and friends, they said they supported the imprisoned writer’s decision to waive his right to appeal.

“Commencing an appeal would only delay the possibility of adequate and supervised medical care, after five years of inhumane treatment and abject medical neglect,” it reads.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong said the government respects the “difficult decision” Dr Yang made, and would continue to advocate for him at every opportunity and at the highest levels.

“I acknowledge the strength that Dr Yang’s family and friends have demonstrated through this period,” she said.

“All Australians want to see Dr Yang reunited with his loved ones.”

Deputy Liberal leader Sussan Ley described the decision as “heartbreaking”.

“It’s incredibly hard and we want him back home in Australia,” she told Sky News.

“We understand the decision that he’s made, and it is about his health. But it’s truly awful.”

Dr Yang’s family have described the charges levelled against him as being without factual basis, and say there’s little evidence of the justice system in China containing the rule of law.

“Yang was subjected to hundreds of instances of torture and has never received any semblance of due process,” the letter said.

“The accusations that the Beijing Municipal State Security Bureau has levelled against him are so spurious that they have never been publicly disclosed, let alone properly tested and cross-examined in court.”

Dr Yang’s supporters have urged China to provide him with medical care, saying he had been denied proper treatment for a serious kidney condition throughout his time in prison.

Australian embassy officials have met with Dr Yang monthly, while Trade Minister Don Farrell is expected to raise the plight of the writer with his Chinese counterpart Wang Wentao on the sidelines of a World Trade Organisation forum in Abu Dhabi at the end of February.

China has maintained the case was held in accordance with its legal system.

Dr Yang’s family expressed thanks to the Australian government for campaigning on his behalf.

“We urge the Australian government, allied nations and the wider international community to continue to show solidarity with Yang and put pressure on the Chinese government so that Yang can be released from prison at an early date and (be) reunited with his family,” the letter reads.

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