- Yang, an Australian citizen, has already spent more than seven months detained in "austere conditions," according to his lawyer Robert Stary. The light in his cell is reportedly always left on and his family and lawyers have been denied from visiting him.
- Australian officials have labelled the arrest politically motivated and have called for Yang's release.
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Australian writer and former diplomat at the Chinese Foreign Ministry Yang Hengjun could face the death penalty after he was formally arrested by the Chinese government and charged with espionage on Tuesday.
While Yang has been detained in China since January, the Chinese government had not revealed the reason why until now.
"The [Australian] Government is very concerned and disappointed to learn that Australian citizen and academic Dr Yang Hengjun was formally arrested in China on suspicion of espionage on August 23 and will continue to be criminally detained," Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said in a statement on Tuesday in response to the formal arrest, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation .
The Chinese government has not indicated the country Yang was allegedly spying for, but if convicted of espionage he could face a long prison sentence or the death penalty under Chinese law . However, Yang's Australia-based lawyer, Robert Stary, said he does anticipate Yang's case attracting that penalty, CNN reported .
According to the ABC, Yang has been detained without access to his family or lawyers since January, but he has been visited by Australian consular staff several times.
"I have discussed this twice with China's Foreign Minister, State Councilor Wang Yi, and have written to him three times, stating my concerns, and those of the Australian government and people. We have serious concerns for Dr Yang's welfare, and about the conditions under which he is being held," Payne said .
Yang had been held in "austere conditions," Stary described in a July interview with the ABC.
"He's been denied access to his family members. We know that for instance, or we've been told, that he's in a cell that has the light on permanently," Stary said.
"We know that there's been limited consular access from the Australian Government, and we know that there was an attempt by the Chinese government to apparently allocate lawyers to him."
Yang has been critical of the Chinese government
Yang, described as a democracy activist , is an Australian novelist and academic who often commented on Chinese affairs. According to the Wall Street Journal , he has been critical of China's ruling Communist Party on social media.
He formerly worked in the Chinese Foreign Ministry and as a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC, receiving his PhD from the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia, according to his author bio on The Diplomat .
His Chinese language online blog , which is said to attract millions of readers, appeared to be offline as of Tuesday evening Australia time.
"I respectfully reiterate my previous requests that if Dr Yang is being held for his political beliefs, he should be released," Payne said.
Australian Senator Rex Patrick has echoed that call for Yang's release.
"There can be no doubt that the still unspecified espionage charges brought against Dr Yang, an Australian citizen, are a political action, designed by the Chinese Government to intimidate members of the Chinese Australian community and to send a blunt political message to the Australian Government," Patrick said in a statement.
"Dr Yang clearly attracted the attention of the Chinese political police as a consequence of his articles promoting the rule of law, democracy and human rights. However, his detention and prosecution must also be seen in the context of China's increasingly combative approach to Western nations, including Australia."
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