'Extreme concern' for Aussie held in China

Sam McKeithAAP
Australian Yang Hengjun, pictured with wife Yuan Xiaoliang, has spent three years in a Chinese jail.
Camera IconAustralian Yang Hengjun, pictured with wife Yuan Xiaoliang, has spent three years in a Chinese jail. Credit: AP

The federal government is "extremely concerned" about the health of detained Australian man Yang Hengjun on the eve of his third year in a Chinese prison.

Dr Yang, 56, was detained by Chinese authorities in January 2019 at Guangzhou Airport before being charged with espionage in October 2020.

He faced a closed trial in Beijing on May 27 last year on charges of espionage but is still awaiting a verdict, which has been subject to numerous delays.

The democracy advocate, who maintains his innocence, has not seen his family since being detained and has had only limited access to lawyers while in custody.

After almost three years in detention concerns are growing for Dr Yang's health, with Foreign Minister Marise Payne saying on Tuesday she is "extremely concerned" for his physical wellbeing.

He is reportedly suffering from a variety of serious ailments including high blood pressure, high uric acid, gout, vision problems, and dizziness.

"We call on Chinese authorities to meet their obligations to ensure that all necessary treatment for his physical and mental health is provided," Minister Payne said in a statement provided to AAP.

She said she was also worried about Dr Yang's stalled trial verdict as well as the lack of details about the investigation or charges against the Australian.

"This constitutes the arbitrary detention of an Australian citizen," she said.

"We therefore call for Dr Yang's immediate release and his return to Australia."

Dr Yang, who is also an author, has told family he is innocent and would never confess to something he had not done.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has previously publicly declared any suggestion Dr Yang acted as a spy for Australia was absolutely untrue.

While Dr Yang did work for the Chinese intelligence service for many years, he broke away two decades ago and has since become a promoter of democracy.

Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese urged the government to make the "strongest representation" possible to China on behalf of the detained Australian.

Mr Albanese said he agreed with the government's assessment that Dr Yang was being unfairly held by Chinese authorities.

"There needs to be transparency with regards to procedural fairness ... which means he should be released," he told reporters on Tuesday.

Amnesty International said it remained "gravely concerned" for the welfare of the Chinese-born Australian, who was now in poor health.

The human rights group said in Dr Yang's almost three years in detention he had endured "hundreds of interrogations and been held in inhumane conditions".

"He remains at grave risk of torture and other ill-treatment," the group's Australia campaigner Nikita White said in a statement.

"We would encourage (the Australian government) to continue to keep up the pressure for his immediate and unconditional release."

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails