Australia says China retains writer arrested in & # 39; unacceptable & # 39; | Australia news

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Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Monday that the treatment of an Australian writer detained in China was "unacceptable," after reports that he was being interrogated daily while chained.

Yang Hengjun, a former Chinese diplomat who became an online journalist and blogger, was formally arrested in August on suspicion of espionage, seven months after he was first arrested in the southern city of Guangzhou.

Espionage is punishable by death in China.

In an unusually frank statement, Marise Payne said she was "very worried,quot; about the reports she received from Australian embassy officials who recently visited Yang in detention.

"Their circumstances of detention include greater isolation from the outside world, with restrictions in their communications with family and friends, and the resumption of daily interrogations, even while they are chained," Payne said in a statement sent via email. "This is unacceptable."

Payne said Australia has asked for an explanation of the charges against Yang, and that repeated requests have been made for Yang to obtain "basic standards of justice, procedural fairness and humane treatment."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has denied that Yang, one of the foreigners recently arrested in China, was a spy.

Arrests have been described by rights groups as politically motivated.

China's near silence about Yang's fate has been a point of friction in relations with Australia.

Initially, Yang had been in "residential surveillance in a designated place,quot; before being transferred to criminal detention in August.

Although Yang's most recent writings had largely avoided Chinese politics, it became prominent in the early 2000s when it was nicknamed "street vendor of democracy."