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Australia concerned over arrest of Chinese-Australian writer by Beijing

CANBERRA (Australia): Australia has said that it was very concerned and disappointed to learn the arrest of Chinese-Australian writer Yang Hengjun.

Australia Foreign Ministry has confirmed that the writer has been formally arrested on espionage charges in China.

The ministry said that the Australian citizen has been held in Beijing since January under “harsh conditions”.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Australia was “very concerned and disappointed” to learn of the arrest.

“We have serious concerns for Dr Yang’s welfare, and about the conditions under which he is being been held,” she said.

He had been held without charge for more than seven months, during which Canberra has repeatedly pressed Beijing to release him.

“China has not explained the reasons for Dr Yang’s detention,” Ms Payne said in a strongly worded statement on Tuesday.

“I respectfully reiterate my previous requests that if Dr Yang is being held for his political beliefs, he should be released,” she said.

Mr Yang, a novelist and former Chinese diplomat, had lived outside of his home country for more than a decade, but maintained a popular blog on Chinese current affairs and international relations.

He was active on Chinese social media and Twitter, where he had more than 130,000 followers and was known as “the democracy peddler”. But he had not been directly critical of Chinese authorities in recent years.

In January, the New York-based writer travelled to China with his wife Yuan Ruijuan and her child – both Chinese citizens – where he was detained at the airport in Guangzhou.

Beijing has held him for alleged “involvement in criminal activities endangering China’s national security” ever since.