Canberra lambasted China’s “deeply regrettable” decision to exclude its ambassador from a Beijing courthouse where an Australian writer was tried on charges of espionage, deepening the diplomatic freeze between the two countries.

Yang Hengjun, a former Chinese state employee turned pro-democracy blogger and naturalized Australian citizen, has been detained in China for more than two years on charges of espionage.

Court officials have barred Australian diplomats from observing the trial that took place Thursday at Beijing’s No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court, as they said the case involved national security.

“This is deeply regrettable, worrying and unsatisfying,” Graham Fletcher, Australian ambassador to China, said outside the courthouse, where diplomats and journalists were watched by dozens of police officers.

“We have long been concerned about this case, including the lack of transparency and, therefore, we have concluded that it was a case of arbitrary detention,” he added.

Yang’s secret trial echoes those of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, two Canadian citizens who have been accused of spying by Chinese authorities. Their detention was in retaliation for the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, the Chinese technology group, in Vancouver following a US extradition request over allegations that she had violated sanctions against Iran. .

Yang said in a letter to her family who were released illegally from detention in March but released on the eve of the trial that her health deteriorated during her 26-month imprisonment without access to fresh air and sunlight.

But he said he was spiritually strong and would face suffering and torture with resilience and dignity.

“If the worst comes to the worst, if someone wants to take revenge on me for my writings, please explain to people in China what I have done and what my writings mean to people in China,” he said. he writes.

“There is nothing more liberating than seeing your worst fears come true. I am no longer afraid now. I will never compromise.

Yang’s lawsuit is heard as relations between Australia and China have fallen to their lowest level in a generation. Ties have frayed following Canberra’s call for an international investigation into the origins of Covid-19 and its introduction of tough laws against foreign interference.

Beijing has slapped tariffs and other restrictions on a range of Australian products in what analysts say is a campaign of “economic coercion.”

Chinese authorities also arrested Cheng Lei, an Australian journalist who worked for China Global Television Network, the state-controlled broadcaster, last year. She was accused of illegally providing state secrets abroad in February.

Marise Payne, Australian Foreign Minister, criticized the Chinese authorities’ handling of Yang’s case.

“I really hope Dr Yang gets a fair trial, but we haven’t seen any explanation or evidence for the charges against him,” she told Australian Radio.

“We do not interfere in the Chinese legal system. The concerns we have raised are legitimate. “

Payne said Australian diplomats raised concerns with authorities over Yang’s “delayed and limited” access to legal representation. Australia expects “core international standards of justice to be upheld,” she added.

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