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Australia says it's deeply concerned about writer in China espionage trial

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia said on Wednesday it was deeply concerned that Australian writer Yang Hengjun is facing trial in China charged with espionage, adding his treatment fell short of “basic standards of justice”.

FILE PHOTO: Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Department of State following the 30th AUSMIN in Washington, D.C. July 28, 2020. Brendan Smialowski/Pool via REUTERS

Lawyers for the 55-year-old blogger will visit him in detention on Thursday in Beijing to describe the charge and the sentence that he might face, friends said.

Australia’s foreign minister Marise Payne said: “We regret that after a lengthy investigation period Chinese authorities have stated that he has been charged with espionage.”

“We have seen no evidence to support this charge,” she said in a statement, adding Australia “is disappointed and deeply concerned” that China had decided to prosecute him.

China’s foreign ministry was approached for comment.

On Monday the ministry said the case was being heard in the Beijing Second Intermediate People’s Court.

Yang was detained in January 2019 after arriving at Guangzhou Airport and had received no family visits and only limited access to legal representation, Payne said.

“This falls short of basic standards of justice and procedural fairness, and is not compatible with international norms.”

Yang’s lawyers have met with him twice, for an hour each time, in the past month, his friends said, his first legal access after 21 months of detention and interrogation by Chinese security authorities.

Consular access via videolink to Australian embassy officials was restored in September after being suspended amid the coronavirus.

Australian government officials had made repeated requests for an explanation of the charges against him, Payne said.

Yang told his family in a message last month that he was innocent and would “never confess to something I haven’t done”.

Reporting by Kirsty Needham, Editing by William Maclean