Chinese Australian writer fears dying in Beijing detention after being diagnosed with a kidney cyst

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Chinese Australian writer and democracy blogger Yang Hengjun has told his family he fears he will die in a Beijing detention center after being diagnosed with a kidney cyst, prompting supporters to demand his release for medical treatment.

Yang has been detained in China since Jan. 19, 2019, when he arrived in Guangzhou from New York with his wife and teenage stepdaughter.

The Associated Press on Monday saw details of a message from Yang that has circulated among his family and friends since last week in which he said a doctor told him recently that the cause of what felt like muscle strain was a 10-centimeter (4-inch) cyst on a kidney.

The doctor said no treatment is required unless the cyst becomes too painful, ruptures or bleeds, Yang said.

Yang, 58, shared frustration at the prospect of dying in detention without being able to speak his truth to the outside world. He also proposed writing a will.

Asked about Yang at a daily news briefing in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin declined to share more details and reiterated that China is under the “rule of law.”

The judicial organs “fully safeguard the legitimate rights of the person involved, and fully respect and safeguard the Australian side’s consular rights, such as the right to visit,” Wang said.

Yang’s friend, University of Technology Sydney academic Feng Chongyi, said supporters urged the Australian government to secure Yang's release to Australia on medical grounds or at least a conditional release for medical treatment outside the detention center.

Supporters also want the government to gain access to Yang’s medical records to receive a second opinion.

“They can use medicines to kill prisoners rather than save them. That’s my fear,” Feng said. “It’s a very dangerous situation if you need an operation. That operation might just kill you.”

The plights of Yang and another Chinese Australian in detention in China, journalist Cheng Lei, are frequently on the agendas of high-level meetings between the countries.

Yang’s supporters hope Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will raise his case again with Chinese President Xi Jinping in a meeting on the sidelines of the summit of the Group of 20 leading rich and developing nations in India next month.

Albanese raised the issue of the two Chinese Australians when he first met Xi last year.

Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles said the government will continue to advocate for Yang.

“We make representations to the Chinese government whenever we can, and that literally means constantly, in respect of all the consular cases that exist with China and that includes this individual,” Marles told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

“We will continue to advocate on behalf of this person to the Chinese government and do everything we can for his circumstances,” Marles said.

Yang received a closed-door trial on an espionage charge in Beijing in May 2021 and is still awaiting a verdict.

Announcement of a verdict has been postponed for three months 10 times and the next possible ruling is Oct. 9.

Cheng, a 48-year-old journalist formerly employed by China’s state broadcaster, was convicted on national security charges at a closed-door trial last year. She has yet to be sentenced.

In a letter to the Australian public on Aug. 11, the third anniversary of her detention, Cheng spoke about her living conditions, saying she was allowed to stand in sunlight for just 10 hours a year.