PEN condemns China’s suspended death sentence of Yang Hengjun

6 February: PEN International joins the undersigned PEN Centres in condemning the handing down of a suspended death sentence to Australian writer Yang Hengjun, five years after he was detained and accused of espionage. According to a statement published by Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong, the death sentence can be commuted to life imprisonment after a two-year period of “good behaviour”.

On 5 February 2024, reports emerged that Yang Hengjun had been given a suspended death sentence by a court in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The sentencing occurred over two and a half years after his trial took place behind closed doors, raising significant concerns regarding Yang’s right to a fair trial and the principle of judicial transparency. The court’s judgement was delayed on numerous occasions, compounding the injustice that Yang has been subjected to.

“This is a shocking, unacceptable outcome of a flawed, opaque judicial process in which a writer has been denied his basic human rights of representation and a fair trial. We stand in solidarity with Yang Hengjun and call on the PRC government to end its assault on freedom of expression,” said Ma Thida, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

There are grave concerns for Yang’s health and ability to receive adequate healthcare while detained. He has a large cyst on his kidney, which he said was not properly treated, and has been kept in solitary confinement for large parts of his time in prison.

In light of the serious procedural issues surrounding his trial and the unsubstantiated allegations made against him, we call on the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to quash Yang Hengjun’s conviction and for his immediate and unconditional release. We also call on the Australian authorities to petition more forcefully for his release.


PEN International

Independent Chinese PEN Centre
PEN Melbourne
PEN Melbourne
PEN Perth
PEN Perth
PEN Sydney
PEN Sweden
PEN America
PEN Chile
PEN Myanmar
PEN Bangladesh
PEN Suisse Romand
Pen Croatia
PEN Philippines
PEN Armãn
PEN Netherlands
PEN Trieste
PEN Canada
Irish PEN/PEN na hÉireann
PEN Germany
PEN San Miguel

For further information please contact Ross Holder, Head of Asia-Pacific region at PEN International, email:

Find background information on Yang Hengjun and his case here.