The Canberra government was deeply disappointed with the criminal detention of an Australian-Chinese writer in China on Thursday.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said, “We have received a confirmation on Friday that Dr Yang Hengjun was held by Chinese authorities since January and had been transferred to criminal detention, apparently on national security grounds”.
The government had raised Yang’s case repeatedly with Beijing and written twice to Foreign Minister Wang Yi requesting a “fair and transparent” resolution, as well as access for Yang to his lawyer, Payne said in a statement.
“The government has expressed concern about Dr Yang’s welfare and the conditions under which he is held,” she added.
According to Mo Shao Ping, Yang’s lawyer said, “Australian writer Yang Hengjun was expected to be formally charged with endangering national security”.
“Anything is possible. Right now we cannot say,” Mo added.
He further said, “Yang’s family in Shanghai has been told to come to Beijing to receive a formal notice of the writer’s criminal detention, indicating formal charges are forthcoming”.
Yang, a Chinese public intellectual who has long advocated for democratic reforms in China, has been detained for the last six months in an unknown location in China.
The maximum punishment for endangering national security is life in prison or in serious cases, the death penalty.
The notice, the family receives should have more details of the charges Yang faces, which could include additional charges, the lawyer said. Yang was initially detained on suspicion of endangering national security.
Australia, notably angered Beijing when it banned Chinese tech giant Huawei from participating in its 5G network last August over security fears.
Earlier this week, Australia challenged China’s treatment of its Muslim Uighur minority by calling on Beijing to allow a Uighur woman and her Australian child to leave the country.