The sons of Yang Hengjun, an Australian writer imprisoned in Beijing for espionage, have written a heartfelt plea to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese as he embarks on a visit to China, hoping for a “second miracle” following the release of journalist Cheng Lei.
Albanese’s visit to China on Saturday marks the first trip by an Australian leader to the country since 2016, as diplomatic tensions gradually ease between the two trading partners. On Monday, he will hold a crucial meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Yang Hengjun is an Australian citizen born in China and was working in New York before his arrest at Guangzhou airport in 2019. His detention coincided with a significant downturn in Australia-China relations.
The trial of Yang was held in secret at a Beijing court in May 2021, and the specifics of his case have never been publicly disclosed. He has consistently denied allegations of espionage for Australia or the United States.
The recent release of Australian journalist Cheng Lei, who had spent three years in a Beijing prison, was seen by analysts as a diplomatic goodwill gesture before Albanese’s visit.
In a letter dated October 28, the sons of Yang expressed their hope that Albanese could achieve a “second miracle” by securing their father’s release. Yang has now been detained for four years and nine months.
The letter urgently requests Albanese to seek Yang’s release on medical grounds, citing reports of declining health and repeated collapses. Friends of Yang have indicated that his health began deteriorating in August, and his sons are gravely concerned about medical neglect leading to severe consequences.
In the letter, the sons revealed their father’s dire health situation, stating that he is essentially bedridden, unable to walk for three weeks, and deeply worried about the undiagnosed cause of his illness, expressing, “I’m sick, I’m weak, I’m dying.”
In response to the letter, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong issued a statement expressing the government’s profound concern about Yang’s deteriorating health. Wong emphasized the government’s shared concerns with Yang’s friends and family regarding his well-being and medical condition.
The sons, who reside in Australia and requested anonymity for privacy reasons, informed the public that they received their first letter from their father, sent from detention, on October 27. In the letter, Yang maintained his innocence under Chinese law and confirmed that he had not made any confession.