SYDNEY, Australia – Chinese officials have cut off all contact between a detained Australian writer and democracy activist, Yang Hengjun, and his family, in what his lawyers described Sunday as an effort to "break,quot; Mr. Yang and force him to confess being a spy
Mr. Yang, who was arrested in January after arriving in Guangzhou, China, on a flight from New York, has consistently denied the charge.
Mr. Yang's lawyers said they had confirmed that Chinese officials conducted daily interrogations of him in isolation, chaining his ankles and wrists, refusing to allow access to any messages of support from family or friends and giving he at least nine pills a day for course health problems such as high blood pressure and kidney complications.
"We are worried because he entered as a healthy and fit man," Sarah Condon, one of his lawyers. in Melbourne, Australia, he said in an interview. "Now he has this supposed diagnosis and is being fed a mixture of drugs."
Mr. Yang's case has already complicated relations between Australia and China, but the latest accusations added another obstacle to easing tensions. The Australian government is under pressure to respond more strongly to Beijing after Intelligence officials confirmed last week that they were investigating an alleged Chinese plot to install a spy in the Australian Parliament.
It is unclear whether attention to Beijing's undercover efforts in Australia, which Chinese officials have denied as pure hysteria, has affected Mr. Yang's treatment. The office of the chancellor of Australia, Marise Payne, who has been deeply committed to the case, could not be reached on Sunday night for comment.
But what Mr. Yang's lawyers described seemed to be a total attempt to convince him to confess an espionage charge that has not been detailed or explained. Chinese officials seem to be trying to make him believe that his case is hopeless and that Australia has abandoned him.
In August, Mr. Yang said that one of his Chinese interrogators had told him that Australia was small and that he would not care because he is not white and because the country depended on China for its trade and economy.
He rejected that claim, according to his lawyers, partly because he knew about Australia's efforts to help through fragments of information transmitted through official channels. Now those avenues seem to have been cut.
"There is a simple attempt to have Mr. Yang undergo an interrogation in complete isolation, completely separated from his loved ones and supporters," said Robert Stary, another of his defense attorneys.
Mr. Yang is one of the many writers and activists who have faced Chinese authorities over the years and disappeared under arrest. He is one of the few people with foreign citizenship detained indefinitely during the past year or so. In December 2018, the Chinese police arrested two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, while officials in Beijing pressured Canada to free Meng Wanzhou, the Huawei executive arrested for possible extradition to the United States on charges of fraud.
The motivation for Mr. Yang's arrest is harder to untangle.
He worked for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China before beginning as a novelist and commentator, moving to Hong Kong, the United States and, finally, Australia, where he studied a doctorate. and became an Australian citizen in 2002.
After migrating, he remained an influential voice in China, using his online presence to sell health supplements and offer lectures, comments on current affairs and advice on migration to Western countries.
While it has often remained within the limits of China's official acceptance, it has also issued criticism with spikes in playful tones.
"I am like an old aunt chattering, always promoting democracy and repeating its benefits," he wrote in a 2014 article.
Before his detention in January, he spent two years with his family in New York, where he was a visiting professor at Columbia University.