The wife of an Australian writer who’s been detained in Beijing since January has also been interrogated by Chinese officials and prevented from leaving the country.
Yuan Xiaoliang was on Sunday morning taken away by a group of Ministry of State Security officers who questioned her for two hours, just two days after she’d tried unsuccessfully to fly out of China.
Ms Yuan, an Australian permanent resident, is married to former Chinese government official-turned author Yang Hengjun, who’s been held in a secret Beijing location without access to a lawyer for almost six months.
On Sunday, the ABC was scheduled to speak to Mr Yang’s wife, who had been hiding in a village for fear of Government retaliation, but just before the planned conversation Ms Yuan was taken away.
“The police make it very clear that she will be punished if she speaks to international media,” says Dr Feng Chongyi, a close friend of Mr Yang and his wife.
It’s understood that at least three of Ms Yuan’s mobile phones were confiscated, complete with undeleted messages and contacts.
Ms Yuan now appears to be “safe” although was believed to be “upset” following the ordeal.
Dr Feng, who was also detained in China in 2017 but eventually released, said he was “disappointed” at Australia’s failure to act on Mr Yang’s case, adding the Government’s “soft approach” had failed.
“When someone is kidnapped, to put in a secret place without access to a lawyer, and can’t be visited by any family, including [their] wife, that is a terrible violation of human rights,” Dr Feng told the ABC.
Last Friday Ms Yuan tried to fly home to Australia but was stopped by border security officials.
Dr Feng believes that action sends a worrying signal for Mr Yang’s case, because it indicates the Chinese authorities are not backing down.
“What I fear is that whether they will use [Ms Yuan] to confess something against her husband or grab her as a hostage to leverage against her husband,” Dr Feng said.
Dr Feng says the Federal Government’s approach to the case has so far failed.
“I am not sure what is behind this, but I guess it is because of [their] relations with China, [they] need to maintain [a] good trade relationship to do business,” he said.
Lawyers demand urgent action from Australian Government
The legal team acting on behalf of Mr Yang has called for urgent intervention from the Australian Government following China’s decision to prevent Ms Yuan from flying home.
“Our disquiet is the fact that as a permanent resident, and married to an Australian citizen, [Ms Yuan] should be afforded the same entitlements, the same sort of consular assistance that any Australian citizen should have access to,” lawyer Rob Stary told the ABC.
In a statement, Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the Australian Government had “raised Dr Yang’s case regularly with China at senior levels”.
“We have requested his case be treated fairly, transparently, and expeditiously,” Senator Payne said.
“Australia continues to have consular access and have asked that he be granted immediate access to his lawyers.”
The Foreign Minister said Australia had asked for clarification regarding the reasons for his detention, and that “if he is being detained purely for his political views then he should be released”.
The ABC understands Australia has also asked the Chinese authorities that Ms Yuan be permitted to depart China to travel to Australia.