Australia on Wednesday hit out at China’s apparent decision to indict a prominent author on spying charges, insisting he is at risk from COVID-19 and must be freed.

Chinese-Australian writer Yang Jun — also known by his pen name Yang Hengjun — was detained over a year ago, soon after making a rare return to China from the United States.

Yang Hengjun
Yang Hengjun. File photo: SBS screenshot, via YouTube.

Australia said it had not been formally notified of the espionage indictment, but slammed China for a lack of solidarity during the global coronavirus pandemic — which began in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

“It is not in the spirit of mutual respect and trust that our continued advocacy for Dr Yang has not been acknowledged,” said foreign affairs minister Marise Payne.

“Dr Yang’s poor health makes him especially vulnerable to COVID-19,” she said, adding he was being held in “harsh” conditions.

Yang has not being allowed access to lawyers and is believed to have been interrogated while shackled during his detention.

“This is unacceptable treatment of an Australian citizen,” Payne said.

Tsim Sha Tsui masks public coronavirus virus Covid-19
File photo: GovHK.

“We call for Dr Yang’s immediate release and that he be allowed to leave China and travel to Australia with his wife.”

China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang did not confirm the indictment at a press briefing Wednesday, but said Yang was “suspected of engaging in criminal activities that undermine our country’s national security.”

Geng said Yang’s legal rights were “fully guaranteed” but that authorities had temporarily stopped arranging visits as part of epidemic control measures.

“We urge Australia to respect China’s judicial sovereignty and stop any interference while China handles the case,” he added.

Geng shuang
China Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang. File Photo: China gov’t.

Yang is the latest in a string of foreign nationals to be detained in China for espionage or attempting to steal state secrets.

Two Canadians, former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor, were detained in December 2018.

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