Senator Payne also rejected Chinese accusations she was “interfering” in the country’s sovereign affairs by asking for fair and humane treatment of an Australian citizen overseas.
Dr Yang, a pro-democracy activist who became an Australian citizen in 2002, was detained in January and formally arrested by the Beijing State Security Bureau on August 23 on suspicion of endangering Chinese national security. The specific claims against him and whether he faces the death penalty remain unknown.
Australian consular officials visited him in Beijing last week and learned he was in a cell with three others, with the light on at all times, had a bed and could wash every day and had access to a small outside area for an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon.
Prior to being placed in criminal detention on July 17, he had been in “residential surveillance” and solitary confinement since January.
“He should be able to receive access to a lawyer, he should be able to receive a proper explanation of the reason for his arrest and he should have his case resolved both fairly and transparently,” Senator Payne said.
“We think that it is very important that his treatment, as we would say of any Australian detained in any place around the world, meets the requirements for fair and humane treatment, meets the requirements of international human rights law.”
When Senator Payne criticised the “harsh” treatment of Dr Yang last month, Chinese foreign affairs spokesman Geng Shuang said China “deplored” her statement on the case.
“Australia should respect China’s judicial sovereignty and not interfere in any way in China’s lawful handling of the case,” the official said on August 28.
Senator Payne said she had not made any comments on the case itself and was doing her job to stand up for the appropriate standards when an Australian citizen was detained.
“I would respectfully say that I don’t believe my comments or those of Australian officials constitute interference in the system of another country,” she said. “Our concerns are legitimate. They are concerns for the treatment in detention of an Australian citizen and we believe that authorities should accord an Australian citizen the basic standards of justice and procedural fairness.”
Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick said he wanted to set up a Senate inquiry into Australian relations with China, naming Dr Yang’s detention as one of the reasons.
Labor foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong has also called for fair treatment of Dr Yang while Law Council president Arthur Moses said last week the Chinese treatment appeared to constitute several breaches of United Nations principles on the role of lawyers.
“These principles exist to protect individuals who are charged and promote natural justice by ensuring access to the lawyer of their choice to act for them without fear or favour,” Mr Moses said. “It is vital for every nation to have an independent legal profession that can practice without fear of reprisal, to promote the administration of justice and ensure a fair trial.”
David Crowe is chief political correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.