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China’s ambassador says Australian Yang HengJun could ‘theoretically’ avoid execution

Headshot of Mark Riley
Mark Riley
The Nightly
3 Min Read
In a 7NEWS exclusive, the Chinese ambassador has broken his silence on the death penality imposed on Yung Heng-jun.

Australian pro-democracy activist Dr Yang HengJun can “theoretically” avoid execution if he honours China’s laws while in jail, China’s Ambassador to Australia has revealed.

In an exclusive interview with Seven West Media, Xiao Qian said Dr Yang’s death sentence could be commuted to life in prison in two years if China’s High Court considered him to have been of good behaviour.

“Theoretically, there is a chance that he will not be executed,” Mr Xiao said.

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“It depends on how he complies with serving his sentence.”

China's ambassador to Australia Xiao Qian.
China's ambassador to Australia Xiao Qian. Credit: Kelsey Reid/The West Australian

The Albanese Government has reacted with anger and dismay to news in February that Dr Yang had been given a suspended death sentence for espionage offences that have never been detailed and on evidence that has remained secret.

Speaking about the sentencing for the first time, Mr Xiao revealed that Dr Yang was convicted on spying charges that related to incidents before he gained Australian citizenship in 2002.

“Yang Jun committed crimes at a time when he was a Chinese citizen and his crimes involved espionage,” the ambassador said.

“He has committed crimes, very serious crimes, and he needs to face punishment according to Chinese law.”

Dr Yang was arrested by Chinese authorities at Guangzhou Airport on a visit to family in 2019.

His family say he worked at China’s Ministry for State Security for more than a decade before 2000, a claim disputed by Chinese authorities.

He has since established a large social media footprint as a pro-democracy blogger and broadcaster, often highly critical of China’s communist government.

Dr Yang’s supporters say he has been tortured in prison and is suffering from a large cyst on a kidney and other severe ailments.

Mr Xiao rejected that, insisting the 58-year-old father of two was receiving “regular health care and humane treatment” and was getting consular visits from Australian officials “regularly – at least monthly”.

“Considering his age, he is not perfectly healthy,” Mr Xiao said.

“But it is also true that his health state is not so serious as has been described publicly or by his relatives.”

Foreign Minister Penny Wong described Dr Yang’s sentencing as “harrowing news”, declaring “the Australian Government is appalled at this outcome”.

Mr Xiao was immediately hauled into the Department of Foreign Affairs for “consultations” with departmental secretary Jawn Adams.

“As ambassador personally, I understand the feeling of the Australian people towards the death sentence because you don’t have the death sentence,” Mr Xiao told Seven West Media.

“But let’s respect each other.”

Dr Yang waived his right to appeal the sentence earlier this month, declaring he had no faith in the Chinese legal system and that his ill health made it impossible for him to fight through another long trial.

His family said in a statement: “Despite his innocence – despite the fact that there has never been a skerrick of evidence presented against him — there are two practical reasons why an appeal would be detrimental to Yang’s welfare.”

“First, there are no grounds to believe that the system that enabled Yang’s sustained torture and fabricated the charges against him is capable of remedying the injustice of his sentence.”

“Second, commencing an appeal would only delay the possibility of adequate and supervised medical care, after five years of inhumane treatment and abject medical neglect.”

Ambassador Xiao insisted that Dr Yung’s case should be treated as a domestic legal issue within China and not a political battle with Australia.

“The relationship between China and Australia has been basically back to normal, back on the right track and back to the right direction,” he said.

“We do have different views on certain issues. But we should be wise enough, mature enough to manage those differences.

“We should not define our relationship by this individual case.”

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