China-born Yang Hengjun, 53, a prominent writer, blogger and political commentator with an Australian citizenship, disappeared on January 18 during a trip with his family to the southeastern Chinese city of Guangzhou. China has since confirmed his arrest and charged him with endangering China’s national security. Yang is detained in Beijing under “residential surveillance in a designated location” (RSDL), a special detention system that may last up to six months and allows the use of torture and other forms of mistreatment.
Yang, who was an employee of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs for 10 years, became an Australian citizen in 2000. Since then, he was very vocal against the Chinese regime and advocated relentlessly for democracy in China. Followed by more than 130,000 people on Twitter, he is notable for his articles on prominent international affairs magazine The Diplomat. Prior to his arrest, Yang was teaching at Columbia University in New York.
“Yang Hengjun has committed no crime in commenting on the Chinese society and politics, which makes his arrest totally unjustified and abusive, said Cédric Alviani, the head of Reporters Without Borders' (RSF) East Asia Bureau. We call 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”.
In March 2011, he was followed by three men at Guangzhou airport and went missing shortly after. He resurfaced 2 days later on Twitter and claimed that it was a “misunderstanding”. China still detains award-winning photoreporter Lu Guang, a US permanent resident, was arrested in Xinjiang in December 2018 and Swedish publisher Gui Minhai, was abducted by the Chinese secret services in Thailand in 2016.
China is the largest prison in the world for journalists, with more than 60 professional and non-professional journalists behind bars. The country ranks 176 out of 180 in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index published by RSF.