Australian writer pleads not guilty after six hour long trial

Beijing, China: The lawyer of the former Chinese diplomat and Australian writer Yang Hengjun on Thursday said that they have pleaded not guilty to espionage charges. The trial lasted for more than six hours.
Yang, 56, defended himself and remained calm throughout the hearing in the Beijing Second Intermediate People’s Court, the lawyer said, reported South China Morning Post (SCMP).
“[Yang] spoke throughout the process and gave long responses, sometimes for up to half an hour. He had a calm demeanour,” said the lawyer, declining to give details of the case against Yang due to state secrets being involved.
Yang has been in detention for more than two years and if he is found guilty, which is likely given China’s 99.9 per cent conviction rate, the Australian writer would be facing between 3 years in jail and life imprisonment.
The latest development threatens to sharpen the faultlines between China and Australia. The relations between the two countries have plummeted in recent months over a range of issues.
Earlier, Australian diplomats were denied access to the closed-door trial of the Chinese-born Australian writer during his espionage trial on Thursday, amid rapidly souring ties between Beijing and Canberra.
On Thursday morning, Australia’s Ambassador to China, Graham Fletcher, was prevented from watching the proceedings of Yang’s trial, with the COVID-19 pandemic given as the reason, reported South China Morning Post (SCMP).
“This is deeply regrettable and concerning and unsatisfactory… We have had long-standing concerns about this case, including the lack of transparency, and therefore have concluded that it is an instance of arbitrary detention,” he told reporters outside the court.
Fletcher further said consular officials had access to Yang last month and would continue to provide support to him and his family.
Yang was detained in 2019 and later transferred to a facility in Beijing, where he was allegedly subjected to torture and interrogated hundreds of times.
His wife, Yuan Ruijuan, who is an Australian permanent resident, told Australian media that Chinese officials had prevented his lawyers from sharing information about the case with her as it involved national security.