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Lawyer says China has charged Chinese-Australian writer

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A Chinese Australian writer detained in Beijing since January was charged on Thursday and moved to a different detention center in the Chinese capital, his lawyer said.

Australian lawyer Rob Stary said he had been told by Yang Hengjun's family and friends of the charge and was seeking confirmation from Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Stary said he did not know what the 53-year-old visiting scholar at Columbia University in New York had been charged with.

"It's an offense under their state security laws. We expect it will be some form of espionage or something of that nature," Stary said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade later said its Beijing Embassy was seeking confirmation from China authorities that Yang had been transferred to a Beijing detention center. The embassy had been notified of the transfer by Yang's family.

"Australia continues to have consular access and have again asked that he be granted immediate access to his lawyers," the department said in a statement.

The Australian government reported in January that Yang was being held in a type of home detention, although the accommodation was not his. China said at time that Yang's case was being handled by the Beijing city branch of the national intelligence bureau.

Stary said he was transferred to a national security department facility when he was charged.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has confirmed the national security department was handling Yang's case.

Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said on Thursday: "At present, the case is under investigation."

"The Chinese national security department handles the case in strict accordance with law and fully protects Yang Jun's lawful rights," Lu said, referring to Yang by a name he is also known by.

"I have nothing else to offer at the moment," Lu added.

He has been detained since Jan. 19, when he arrived from New York at China's Guangzhou Airport with his wife, Xiaoliang Yuan, and his 14-year-old stepdaughter.

China in January said Yang had been detained for allegedly endangering national security, a vague charge frequently leveled at critics of the ruling Communist Party.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Payne said last week that her government had raised Yang's case "regularly with China at senior levels."

"We have requested his case be treated fairly, transparently, and expeditiously," Payne said in a statement.

"Australia has asked for clarification regarding the reasons for his detention and we have said that if he is being detained purely for his political views, then he should be released," she added.

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Associated Press researcher Liu Zheng in Beijing contributed to this report.

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