With Cheng Lei released, this family is hoping for another Australian ‘miracle’ in Beijing
Save articles for later
Add articles to your saved list and come back to them any time.
Yang Hengjun has two gaps in his Beijing prison cell through which he interacts with the outside world.
One is where his food comes in. The other is where it goes out.
The father, writer, and pro-democracy agitator has spent four years pacing the 11 steps that make up this dungeon of a cell. He has largely been unable to read books or write letters home. Occasionally, some rays of sunlight might flicker through a glass pane, but he has not felt the direct heat of sunlight in years.
Yang Hengjun and his wife, Yuan Xiaoliang.
Last month, Yang’s family watched on as fellow Australian Cheng Lei was released from jail.
“We have been inspired by the wonderful news of Cheng Lei’s release and return to Melbourne after three years in detention,” Yang’s two sons said in a letter to Anthony Albanese released on Wednesday ahead of the prime minister’s arrival in China this weekend.
“We hope that you, Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Ambassador Graham Fletcher can achieve a second miracle by saving our father, who has now spent four years and nine months in detention.”
After years of torture and isolation, Yang’s family is no closer to finding out why the 57-year-old is in jail. As in Cheng’s case, the national security charges of espionage are vague. Cheng was detained for three years because she broke a media embargo by just a few minutes.
Yang and his supporters claim he is the victim of political persecution for his outspoken criticism of the Chinese government. The University of Technology PhD graduate was detained in 2019 as relations between Australia and China began their spiral into a four-year freeze that is only now beginning to thaw.
His sons, who asked not to be identified, said Yang and their mother moved to Australia because they wanted them to be brought up in “the most beautiful country in the world, where the rule of law is strong and human rights are guaranteed.”
“But now he is without human rights, and his situation is critical,” they said.
Australian Department of Foreign Affairs officials on consular visits have reported that Yang’s health has rapidly declined in the past four weeks, noting he now has trouble standing and that he had collapsed several times.
Chinese medical officials have identified a kidney cyst, but his family worries it is being left untreated.
“The risk of being left to die from medical maltreatment is especially clear to our father because he has seen it happen to his friends,” Yang’s sons wrote.
Dozens of political prisoners have died in Chinese jails in the past few decades after being denied treatment for curable diseases.
Yang’s sons urged Albanese to do everything he could while he was in Beijing to get Yang out of jail.
“We ask that you make clear that it is not possible to stabilise the bilateral relationship with a government that is holding an Australian citizen just a few kilometres south of where you will be hosted,” they said.
Wong said it was clear from the letter that Yang had a strong love for his country and was greatly missed by his sons.
“Since Dr Yang was detained, the Australian government has called for basic standards of justice, procedural fairness and humane treatment to be afforded to Dr Yang, including medical treatment, in accordance with international norms and China’s legal obligations,” Wong said.
Yang’s memories have trickled back to him while he spends endless hours in the dark walking between the hole that makes up his toilet and the one that delivers his food.
“I remembered leaving my home in Sydney to go to China,” he said in one letter released from prison. “My youngest son, who was in junior high school, suddenly appeared on the balcony and pleaded, ‘Can you stay, Daddy?’”
It has been more than two years since Yang had his closed-door trial in Beijing. Any reprieve is unlikely to come during Albanese’s visit. In October, the deadline for that verdict was extended for another three months to January 9.
Get a note directly from our foreign correspondents on what’s making headlines around the world. Sign up for our weekly What in the World newsletter.
Most Viewed in World
From our partners
Source: Read Full Article