SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian writer Yang Hengjun, detained by Chinese authorities for 18 months, has told family he has refused to make a false confession, as his case appears to move closer to trial.
Yang’s lawyer was on Thursday allowed access to the Beijing detention facility where the 55-year-old writer is being held, for the first time since he was detained in January 2019, friends said.
Yang was formally charged with suspicion of espionage in March this year. Australia has strongly objected to the indictment.
“I am innocent and will fight to the end” Yang said in a message to his family, according to a friend, the University of Technology Sydney Professor Feng Chongyi.
“I will never confess to something I haven’t done,” he said in the message, a friend of Yang’s, Feng told Reuters.
Relations between Australia and China have become increasingly strained, and Beijing has said it was angered by Australia’s call for an inquiry into the source of the coronavirus pandemic.
On Monday Australia’s foreign ministry revealed a second Australian journalist, the high-profile Chinese state television host Cheng Lei, had been detained by Chinese authorities.
The Australian government hasn’t been told why Cheng was detained.
Yang, a prominent Chinese blogger, was intercepted by security officials at Guangzhou airport as he arrived on a visit from New York, where he lived.
Yang’s family has appointed prominent Chinese human rights lawyer Mo Shaoping, who previously defended jailed Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo in a 2009 trial.
Feng said under the Chinese legal system there is six weeks left for Chinese prosecutors to take the case to court.
Yang has been interrogated for extended periods during his detention, his friends have said.
“This is a system designed to break people and force them to confess,” said Human Rights Watch Australia director Elaine Pearson.
She noted acquittals in the Chinese legal system were rare.
Australian consular officials had videolink access with Yang on Monday, the first this year, after visits were suspended amid the coronavirus.
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