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Australian activist held by China on spying charges to face trial

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

The trial of an Australian writer and democracy activist accused of spying by Chinese authorities will begin today.

The trial of an Australian writer and democracy activist accused of spying by Chinese authorities will begin today.

Dr Yang Hengjun will be tried in a closed Chinese court after being held in Beijing for more than two years. The charge of espionage carries the maximum sentence of the death penalty.

Chinese officials in Guangzhou took Dr Hengjun into custody in January 2019 when he stopped over on a connecting flight to Shanghai, en route to Australia.

READ MORE: The timeline of Yang Hengjun's arrest

Yang Hengjun, left, poses with a family member in Beijing. Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne said  her government was "deeply disappointed" that the Chinese-Australian writer was placed in criminal detention in Beijing six months after he was taken into custody at a Chinese airport.

Senior Australian lawyers have called on the Chinese government to ensure Dr Hengjun has access to independent legal counsel.

Law Council president Jacoba Brasch said the right to independent legal assistance must be ensured.

"And access to effective legal representation should be guaranteed to all persons at all stages of criminal proceedings," she said in a statement.

"This is a fundamental precondition to realising the right to a fair trial."

Dr Brasch said Dr Yang's treatment by Chinese authorities fell short of international standards.

The council has voiced concerns for Dr Yang's condition and a lack of procedural fairness since he was detained.

Chinese-Australian writer Yang Hengjun attends a lecture at Beijing Institute of Technology in Beijing, China, in 2010.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne last week requested Australian officials be permitted to access the court and labelled the process to date "closed and opaque".

Ms Payne said China had not provided an explanation, nor evidence of the charges of espionage.

Amnesty International went further yesterday, labelling the allegations "totally baseless" and calling on Chinese authorities to guarantee a fair trial.

"This is an outrageous attack on his right to freedom of expression," Amnesty International China team head Joshua Rosenzweig said.

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"He remains at grave risk of torture and other ill-treatment."

The Australian government is providing consular assistance to Dr Yang's family.

In July his wife, an Australian resident, was banned from leaving China.

Source: 9News

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