Australian government revealed on August 27th that China-born Australian blogger and writer, Yang Hengjun, already detained for seven months in Beijing, had been officially charged with espionage, a crime that carries death penalty in China. Yang, a vocal critic of the Chinese regime, was a visiting scholar at Columbia University in New York and also wrote for online magazine The Diplomat. His Twitter account gathers more than 130,000 followers.
“By charging a foreign journalist for espionage, the Chinese regime’s record of press freedom has taken another turn for the worse,” says Cédric Alviani, the head of Reporters Without Borders' (RSF) East Asia Bureau, who calls on the international community “to ramp up the pressure on Beijing so that they would immediately release Yang and all other detained journalists and bloggers.”
Yang was arrested in January when traveling from New York to the city of Guangzhou (Guangdong province). He was then placed under “residential surveillance in a designated location (RSDL)”, a special detention system that keeps detainees incommunicado and often leads to the use of torture.
Yang is not the only foreign media worker held by China under abusive charges. Swedish publisher Gui Minhai, who was kidnapped in Thailand in 2015, remains detained, despite showing the symptoms of a serious neurological disease, for “illegally providing state secrets and intelligence overseas”.
China currently detains more than 115 journalists and bloggers, and is ranked 177th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.