Tuesday, 4 April 2006

Australia China talks over murder case

Australia is continuing negotiations with China over the case of a man who faces the death penalty for a murder committed in Canberra.

Zhang Long is being held in China for the murder of his girlfriend, fellow student Zhang Hongjie (also known as Steffi Zhang), whose body was found in their Canberra apartment in January 2005. She was believed to have been lying in the Belconnen apartment for six months before neighbours complained to police about a foul smell.

Australia's Federal Justice Minister Chris Ellison said the government raised the case in talks with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who is currently visiting the country.

Australian police have refused to provide Chinese authorities with further information until China provides a guarantee that the death penalty will not be applied.

Chris Ellison said on 3 April: "I was not at the meeting today but I can tell you that the Attorney-General did raise the issue and I think that it's one which is progressing well, I'm satisfied with the level of progress."

Under Australian law, an international request for assistance in criminal cases can be refused where that assistance may result in the death penalty.

In June 2005, the Australian government confirmed it was negotiating with China over the case.

The Australian newspaper at the time quoted a spokesman for Minister Chris Ellison saying Australia would do "whatever it can" to help bring the killer to justice. But he said "the assistance the Australian Government can provide is limited unless China is able to provide the undertaking that the death penalty won't be imposed or carried out".

The newspaper said China had not made such an undertaking although sensitive secret negotiations were continuing.

In contrast, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) provided information to the Indonesian Police that resulted in the arrest of nine Australians for attempting to traffic heroin to Australia. Two of the so-called Bali 9 were sentenced to death in February 2006. They are currently appealing their sentences.

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