Authorities in the Chinese capital are now holding Chinese-Australian writer Yang Hengjun in a detention center, placing him under criminal detention on suspicion of spying following six months of residential surveillance.
Yang, 54, an outspoken Australian writer and political commentator who formerly held Chinese nationality, was detained on arrival at Guangzhou Airport on Jan. 19, then taken to Beijing by officers of the state security police.
He is currently being held in the Beijing Municipal State Security Bureau Detention Center, and remains under investigation for "endangering state security," his defense lawyer Mo Shaoping told RFA.
"He hasn't been indicted, just transferred from residential surveillance to criminal detention," Mo said. "The charge of endangering state security is a very serious one in Chinese law, comprising 10 or more different charges, of which spying is one."
Mo said he has made repeated requests to be allowed to meet with his client, all of which have been denied.
He said he would continue to meet with the authorities in the hope of setting up a meeting.
"Any requests for meetings between lawyers and clients must go through the state security bureau, which has been refusing to approve them this whole time," he said. "They won't agree to it."
"We will continue to request a meeting," Mo said.
Australian foreign affairs minister Marise Payne said Canberra had received formal notification from the Chinese authorities that Yang had been moved on Friday.
"The Australian Government is deeply disappointed that Australian citizen and academic Dr Yang Hengjun has been transferred to criminal detention in China," Payne said in a statement.
"The government has expressed concern about Dr Yang's welfare and the conditions under which he is held and we have asked for clarification regarding the reasons for Dr Yang's detention," she said.
"If he is being detained for his political views, then he should be released."
Cramped quarters with no exercise
Yang's friend Feng Chongyi, who is based in Sydney, cited Australian diplomats as saying that Yang is being held in cramped quarters.
"He is locked up in a small room, where he has to eat, drink and go to the toilet," Feng said. "There is no window on the outside, and there are very strong lights on, 24 hours a day, with two guards stationed inside the room watching [him]."
"He has to get out of bed at 7.00 a.m. every morning, and either sit or stand until 7.00 p.m.," he said. "He has no access to the outdoors for exercise."
In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China would conduct the case according to law, and called on Australia to refrain from making "irresponsible comments."
He said the Beijing state security police had placed Yang under "coercive measures" as allowed by law, in order to investigate him, and would continue to observe due legal process in the case.
Calls to a media contact number supplied by the Australian embassy in Beijing rang unanswered during office hours on Friday.
Yang's detention comes amid growing international tension over the detention in Canada of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of China's flagship telecommunications firm Huawei.
More than 10 Canadians were detained in China after the ruling Chinese Communist Party vowed to retaliate for the arrest of Meng, who is wanted for questioning by investigators in the U.S. over alleged bank fraud linked to the breach of sanctions against Iran.
Both the U.S. and Canada have now upgraded cautionary advice to any of their citizens traveling to China, amid growing calls for the release of former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and consultant Michael Spavor, who are also being detained on suspicion of "endangering state security."
Reported by Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.