Lawyers for Australian citizen Yang Hengjun, who has been detained in China since January, say urgent and strong intervention by the federal government is required after Mr Yang’s wife was blocked at the airport from leaving China to return to Australia by state security forces on Thursday.
Mr Yang’s wife, Yuan Rui Juan was forcibly taken away by officers from the Ministry of State Security yesterday, and interrogated for two hours, according to her lawyers.
A close friend of the couple – Professor Chongyi Feng – who has had regular contact with Ms Yuan fears that China’s secret police are seeking to hold Ms Yuan as a hostage in China in order to gain leverage in their interrogations of her husband.
“They continue to attempt to extract a false confession from him,” he said.
“If they cannot get Mr Yang to confess to political crimes, they hope to force her to confess something against her husband.”
Dr Feng said Ms Yuan is living in constant fear.
“She is worried the secret police can take her away any time and feel helpless,” he said.
“She doesn’t know what to do next.”
The 53-year-old writer and democracy activist was dramatically detained in January after flying from New York to Guangzhou.
He has since been held in “residential surveillance” which can go on for six months without a formal charge being laid.
Mr Yang’s lawyers are demanding Foreign Affairs minister Marise Payne urgently raise the case to the Chinese government and demand for his immediate release.
“They are Australians, and every fellow Australian – and our government – should demand their immediate release,” Mr Yang’s lawyer Robert Stary said.
“It is not a crime to engage in free speech or advocate for democratic rights.
“But this is all Mr Yang has done.”
They are also urging the government to extend consular assistance to Mr Yang’s wife, who was granted permanent residency in Australia two months ago.
“It is concerning that an arbitrary line, in terms of consular assistance, has been drawn between husband and wife, based on Yuan’s citizenship status alone,” the lawyers said.
Dr Feng says the Australian government has been “very soft” in trying to assist Mr Yang’s case.
“They have told me that all levels of representation have been used to Chinese authorities but I don’t know what kind of demands they have put forward,” Dr Feng said.
“So far they haven’t publicly asked for Yang’s release.
“That is not on the table but I believe it is a legitimate demand.”
Marise Payne has previously said that the government will demand “transparent and fair” treatment of Mr Yang takes place.
Mr Yang continues to be held in isolation, his only contact with the outside world is monthly visits from the Australian consulate.
Dr Feng said Mr Yang has not been well.
“They still torture him, three guards will take shifts 24 hours a day watching over him,” Dr Feng said.
“They will leave a bright light on 24 hours a day, he has a small stool he sits on for 12 hours a day and he is not permitted to go outside at all.”