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A security official is seen in Beijing on June 4, 2019. Chinese authorities recently announced the formal arrest of blogger Yang Hengjun. (AP/Mark Schiefelbein)

Australian blogger Yang Hengjun arrested in China on espionage charges

August 28, 2019 1:25 PM ET

Taipei, August 28, 2019 -- Chinese authorities should immediately release Yang Hengjun and drop all charges against him, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

In January, police in Guangzhou detained Yang, a former Chinese diplomat turned blogger and political commentator, who has Australian citizenship, according to news reports. Yang frequently posted commentaries on Twitter and Weibo about U.S.-China relations, espionage, and political reform.

Authorities gave no explanation for his detention until yesterday, when Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang told reporters that the National Security Bureau in Beijing had formally arrested Yang on espionage charges, according to the state-run newspaper People’s Daily and CNN.

“Chinese authorities seem to have a basic confusion that writing about espionage is the same thing as practicing it,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Washington, D.C. “Yang Hengjun should be freed immediately and allowed to pursue his work as a commentator.”

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne told The Guardian that China’s allegation against Yang was baseless and that Australian authorities are concerned for his welfare and the conditions under which he is being held.

In 2011, CPJ reported that Yang disappeared in Guangzhou for several days and was suspected of having been detained by police. Yang later called that disappearance a “misunderstanding,” according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

At least 47 journalists were imprisoned in China for their work as of December 2, 2018, according to CPJ’s annual prison census, making it the second largest jailer of journalists worldwide, after Turkey.

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