‘They tortured me,’ Australian Yang Hengjun says as he awaits verdict after trial in China

Yang Hengjun, the Australian writer facing espionage charges in China, told his secret trial in Beijing he is “100% innocent” but he has said he was tortured while being interrogated and fears forced confessions may be used against him.

Yang, 55, faced a single-day trial on Thursday, held in secret, after more than two years in detention.

He spoke in his own defence, and submitted about 100 pages of evidence and testimony to support his case, but has said he is concerned that records of more than 300 interrogations, including during sustained periods of torture, were captured by hidden cameras and could be used as evidence against him.

In a message sent from detention after his trial, Yang said his initial interrogations were designed to coerce a false confession from him.

“The interrogations I had been subjected to, where I was told I had to confess, and the treatment I received for the first one-and-a-half years, was much worse.

“The first six months, when I was in RSDL [residential surveillance at a designated location – a type of secret detention], was a really bad period. They tortured me.”

Reports during Yang’s 28 months in detention said that, at times, Yang had pronounced difficulty walking, was being medicated, and was suffering from serious memory loss and dizziness. He was reported as being pale and having lost weight.

Yang has said he faced more than 300 interrogations, some running for many hours beginning in the middle of the night, often while shackled at his wrists and ankles.

Human Rights Watch has reported in detail about the interrogation techniques used against political prisoners in China, including the use of sustained sleep deprivation, stress positions, and forcible restraints, such as so-called tiger chairs.

Yang said following his trial: “I made a plea to the judge to exclude my interrogation records from the court proceedings. It’s illegal. Torture. They had hidden camera records. I will ask the Chinese government to provide the truth.”

On Thursday Australia’s ambassador to China, Graham Fletcher, was excluded from the courtroom. He described Yang’s treatment as “arbitrary detention”. The Australian government has consistently said the allegations against Yang are baseless.

But China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, accused Australia of “gross interference” in the case, saying Yang’s detention and trial had been conducted in accordance with the law.

Yang said he was “tired and confused” during his trial, “and I didn’t have the spirit to speak enough. I only spoke for three to five minutes.”

He said while he has been tried on espionage charges, he still does not know for which country he is accused of spying.

Yang said he hoped the court would make its decision based only on the legitimate evidence before it.

“I hope the judgement isn’t influenced by pressure over my writings, or international relations, or the secret police and the protection of national security.

“The case put forward by the prosecutor, according to legal facts, is groundless. I’m 100% innocent. I now need to wait for the court to make its decision. I hope it will be the right decision.”

Yang thanked Australia’s ambassador and diplomatic officials but said he feared he might be held for years waiting for the court’s decision.

“I hope Australia can keep communicating with China on good terms to help bring about my release as soon as possible.”

Yang, whose legal name is Yang Jun, was born in Hubei in central China. He was formerly a diplomat for China’s ministry of foreign affairs, and an agent for the secretive ministry of state security, before working in the private sector in Hong Kong and moving to Australia, then to the US, where he was a visiting scholar at Columbia University.

A writer of spy novels, he has been a popular blogger, political commentator and agitator for democratic reforms in China for more than a decade. He describes himself as a “democracy peddler”.

Yang, who became an Australian citizen in 2002, flew into Guangzhou with his family in January 2019. His wife and child were able to enter China but authorities escorted Yang from the plane into detention.

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