China-born Australian democracy blogger decides against appealing suspended Chinese death sentence

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A China-born Australian democracy blogger will not appeal his suspended death sentence imposed by a Beijing court, with his family saying Wednesday a legal challenge would be detrimental to his welfare. Yang Hengjun was found guilty of espionage following a closed trial and sentenced two weeks ago to death with a two-year reprieve. Such sentences are often commuted to life in prison after two years.

A statement from Yang’s family and close friends said they strongly supported the 58-year-old’s decision to waive his right to appeal. “There are two practical reasons why an appeal would be detrimental to Yang’s welfare,” the statement said. First, there were no grounds to believe the judicial system would remedy his “unjust” sentence, it said. And second, an appeal would only delay the possibility of Yang receiving adequate medical care after five years of “inhumane” treatment and “neglect” in custody, the statement added.

Yang’s supporters urge Australia to pressure China to release him from prison on medical parole or to transfer him to Australia. Foreign Minister Penny Wong said her government respected the “difficult decision” Yang had made to waive his appeal rights 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,” Wong said in a statement.

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“All Australians want to see Dr. Yang reunited with his loved ones,” Wong added. Yang, a former Chinese diplomat and state security agent who became a political commentator and writer of spy novels in Australia, was detained in January 2019 on arrival in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou on a flight from New York with his wife and teenage stepdaughter. He was tried in Beijing in May 2021. The details of his case have not been disclosed.

Yang, who became an Australian citizen in 2002, has denied working as a spy for Australia or the United States. In a letter to his sons in August last year, Yang said he hadn’t experienced direct sunlight in more than four years. He told his family he feared he would die in detention after being diagnosed with a kidney cyst, prompting supporters to demand his release for medical treatment.

In October last year, Australian journalist Cheng Lei was freed after more than three years in detention in China for breaking an embargo with a television broadcast on a state-run TV network. The plights of Yang and Cheng had frequently been on the agendas of high-level meetings between the countries in recent years.