Call for release of Japan-based Chinese scholar

The family and colleagues of a Japan-based Chinese researcher who is being held by Chinese authorities on espionage-related allegations insist he is innocent and are calling for his swift release.

Former professor at the Hokkaido University of Education, Yuan Keqin, was visiting China in 2019 when he was detained by authorities on suspicion of being involved in spying, and later indicted.

Yuan's son and fellow researchers held a news conference at the offices of the Hokkaido prefectural government on Tuesday. Yuan's son was born and raised in Japan.

He told the conference that a lawyer was allowed to meet his father for the first time earlier this month, and that the lawyer confirmed he is in good health.

He said his father reportedly told the lawyer he intends to plead not guilty at his trial.

The claim conflicts with comments by a spokesperson for China's foreign ministry, who told reporters last month that Yuan has made a full confession.

His son said Yuan is not weakening, but is fighting singlehandedly to clear his name of the false charges. He said he hopes his father will be found innocent and released as soon as possible, and that he wants to see him in good health.

Hokkaido University Professor Iwashita Akihiro also attended the conference. He expressed concern that academic exchanges between the countries could suffer if researchers can't feel safe when traveling to China. He urged the Japanese government to help resolve the matter.