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China hands Australian writer a suspended death penalty in a move Canberra condemns

Sydney CNN —

A Chinese-Australian writer has received a suspended death penalty in China, five years after he was detained on espionage charges, according to Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong.

Yang Hengjun, an Australian citizen and democracy activist born in China, was sentenced Monday by a court in Beijing, Wong said in a statement, adding that the Australian government was “appalled” by the sentence.

“We understand this can be commuted to life imprisonment after two years if the individual does not commit any serious crimes in the two-year period,” Wong said.

“This is harrowing news for Dr Yang, his family and all who have supported him. Our thoughts are with them.”

Yang, 58, was detained in 2019 at the airport when he arrived in the southern city of Guangzhou with his wife from New York to see family in China.

He was later charged with espionage – accusations he has denied.

Yang’s case has been shrouded in secrecy. Chinese authorities have offered no details on his charges – including which country he was accused of spying for.

In 2021, his trial was held behind closed doors in a heavily guarded court in Beijing, to which Australian diplomats were denied entry. The verdict and sentence were repeatedly delayed.

China’s court system is notoriously opaque – especially on cases involving national security – and has a conviction rate of above 99%, according to legal observers.

Yang has suffered from poor health in detention. Last year, Yang said he feared he might die in prison, after a large cyst was found on his kidney.

Australia has advocated for Yang with China “at every opportunity, and at the highest levels,” said Wong, the Australian foreign minister, in her statement.

Aerial photo Chongqing, China.