Australian political commentator sentenced to death: China's relentless crackdown on journalism reaches new heights

The suspended death sentence handed down to Australian political commentator Yang Hengjun, author of several articles critical of the Chinese regime in the magazine The Diplomat, is appalling. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the overturning of this inhumane sentence, based on trumped-up charges of "espionage".

Chinese-born Australian political commentator Yang Hengjun was sentenced to a suspended death penalty for "espionage" - a sentence which can be commuted to life imprisonment after two years if he does not re-offend - as announced by the Chinese regime on 5 February 2024. Postponed several times after a trial held behind closed doors in 2021, this is the harshest verdict handed down against a press freedom defender since Xi Jinping came to power in 2012.

By sentencing a foreign political commentator to death, the Chinese authorities are sending a chilling message to all media professionals: from now on, any sharing of information critical of the regime is punishable by capital punishment. We urge the international community, in particular the Australian government, to step up pressure on Beijing to immediately release Yang Hengjun, an Australian citizen, convicted for his critical articles in the magazine The Diplomat.

Cédric Alviani
RSF Asia-Pacific Bureau Director

Yang Hengjun published several articles critical of the Chinese regime in the well-known international news magazine The Diplomat between 2015 and 2016, before being arrested in January 2019 during a trip with his family to China. In the summer of 2023, his family revealed that he had been deprived of medical care in jail. Yang was also reportedly tortured and subjected to more than 300 interrogations while in detention.

Yang Hengjun is not the only foreign press freedom defender convicted of espionage in China. Kidnapped in Thailand before reappearing in China in a forced confession in 2015, Swedish publisher Gui Minhai was sentenced in February 2020 to ten years in prison for "illegally providing state secrets and intelligence abroad". More recently, in October 2023, Chinese-born Australian journalist Cheng Lei was released and sent home to Australia after being held for more than three years under similar charges.

China ranks 179th out of 180 in the 2023 RSF World Press Freedom Index and is the world's largest captor of journalists and press freedom defenders with at least 120 detained.

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179/ 180
Score : 22.97
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