Lawyer says Beijing prevents Australian resident from leaving

A detained Chinese-Australian writer’s wife has been refused permission to leave China six months after her husband was taken into custody, their lawyer said yesterday.

Yang Hengjun, a 53-year- old visiting scholar at Columbia University in New York and a former Chinese diplomat, has been detained since Jan. 19, when he arrived at China’s Guangzhou Airport with his wife, Xiaoliang Yuan, and his 14-year- old stepdaughter.

Yuan, an Australian resident, had been prevented from flying to Australia from Beijing airport on Thursday, Australian lawyer Rob Stary said.

“There’s an exit ban on her leaving. She was escorted to a hotel and interrogated for a couple of hours but is not formally in detention,” Stary said.

“We don’t know what the nature of the interrogation was; we assume it’s in relation to her husband, who has been described as a democracy activist and journalist,” Stary added.

China in January said Yang had been detained for allegedly “endangering China’s national security,” a vague charge frequently leveled at critics of the ruling Communist Party.

Yuan and her daughter have been living with relatives in China since he was detained.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne yesterday released a statement on Yang’s case, but did not comment on his wife’s plight.

“The Australian government has raised Dr. Yang’s case regularly with China at senior levels,” Payne said.

“We have requested his case be treated fairly, transparently, and expeditiously,” she added.

Australia continued to have consular access and had asked that Yang be granted immediate access to his Chinese lawyers, Payne said.

“Australia has asked for clarification regarding the reasons for his detention and we have said that if he is being detained purely for his political views, then he should be released,” she said.

Stary said Australia should be doing more to get Yuan and her child out of China, despite them being Chinese and not Australian citizens.

Yang’s six-month detention order expires on July 27. He could then be charged, which could “make her capacity to travel even more restrictive,” Stary said.

“She’s completely the innocent party. Her movements have been curtailed really because of her relationship with her husband,” Stary said.

Stary described as “curious” Australia’s quick success in getting North Korea to release Australian Alek Sigley released last week after Sigley was accused of spying while in Pyongyang.

Australia had abrogated its responsibility to an Australian resident by failing to persuade China to let Yuan leave after six months, Stary said.

Yang’s friend, University of Technology Sydney academic Feng Chongyi, said he was disappointed that the Australian government had not publicly called for Yuan’s release from China.

Feng, who was detained for two weeks in 2017 while visiting China to research human rights lawyers, said Yuan was suffering depression. Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs of Trade’s refusal to offer her the same level of help as it would an Australian citizen was a “great disappointment,” Feng said.

“She’s a brave woman, but six months living with this kind of fear it’s horrible,” Feng said.

Yuan told Australian Broadcasting Corp. in April while she was living with her parents in Shanghai that she had  no idea whether her husband “is well or even if he is alive or not.”

“It gets harder as time passes, mainly because I can’t see him. I would have felt better if the lawyers could see him and verify that he is all right,” Yuan said. Rod McGuirk, Canberra. AP

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