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Chinese government prepares to charge Australian academic

The Australian citizen and pro-democracy political blogger was detained in January last year and formally arrested by the Beijing State Security Bureau on August 23 on suspicion of endangering Chinese national security. His lawyers say the 54-year-old has been held largely in isolation since. The move to formally lay charges was first reported by the ABC on Tuesday night.

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Senator Payne, who has repeatedly raised concerns about claims that Dr Yan has been shackled and subjected to daily interrogations, said the Australian government “strongly objected” to the formal indictment in China on suspicion of espionage.

“The Australian Government is very disappointed that the Chinese authorities have not yet provided formal advice on Dr Yang’s indictment,” she said.

“Since his detention over a year ago, the Australian Government has repeatedly expressed its strong concern about the treatment of Dr Yang. Dr Yang’s case continues to be of key interest to the Australian community.

“Crises are a time for nations to pull together. It is not in the spirit of mutual respect and trust that our continued advocacy for Dr Yang has not been acknowledged. Dr Yang’s poor health makes him especially vulnerable to COVID-19. In our most recent representations, we appealed for humanitarian considerations to apply to Dr Yang’s situation.”

The virus that was first detected in China and has since swept the world has further limited already scarce visits to the country’s jails and Dr Yang’s lawyers fear they may not be able to meet with him in person to prepare his case.

In August, Senator Payne told media she had no information to support the accusation that Dr Yang was spying for Australia or any other country.

The Chinese government urged Australia not to interfere in the prosecution. A spokesman for the Chinese embassy said Dr Yang was suspected of criminal activities endangering China’s national security.

“The Chinese relevant authorities are investigating the case in accordance with Chinese law,” the spokesman said on Wednesday.

“We urge the Australian side to respect China’s judicial sovereignty and refrain from interfering in the legal process in any form.”

Dr Yang’s friend and fellow pro-democracy activist Feng Chongyi said the case was politically motivated.

“Any outcome will depend on the political consideration of the Chinese government itself,” he said.

“There is no evidence whatsoever for them to charge [him] as a spy for Australia or any western government.

“This is motivated by two political decisions. One is to silence political dissent and the second is the broader operation to force western governments to back off from the Huawei case.

Professor Feng alleged Dr Yang was still being used as political leverage to get Australia to allow Huawei to take part in its 5G network.

The Turnbull government banned the Chinese-owned telco from participating in the 5G rollout in 2018 over national security concerns.

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