(Bloomberg) -- Australian writer Yang Hengjun has announced he won’t appeal a suspended death sentence imposed by a Chinese court in early February, a ruling that has clouded the outlook for relations between Canberra and Beijing following a recent improvement.

Yang’s family and friends said they supported his decision to waive the right to appeal, according to a statement released Wednesday, citing their distrust of China’s legal system and the imprisoned writer’s urgent need for medical attention. Yang is believed to be in poor health and his family said they want him to receive treatment as soon as possible.

Yang’s family said despite his decision not to appeal the sentence, “there has never been a skerrick of evidence presented against him,” according to the statement published by the Capital Punishment Justice Project.

“Yang’s decision to forgo the appeals process does not in any way change the fact that he is both innocent and morally unbreakable,” they said.

Yang, who’s in his 50s, was sentenced by a Beijing court on Feb. 5 after being found guilty of espionage, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said at the time. His suspended death sentence can be commuted to life in prison after two years if he doesn’t re-offend in that time.

Yang is a former employee of the Chinese Foreign Ministry who later became a pro-democracy advocate after becoming disillusioned with the government in Beijing, his friend Feng Chongyi wrote in 2019. China’s government has denied ever employing Yang.

The announcement of his death sentence shocked the Australian government, prompting Foreign Minister Penny Wong to summon Chinese Ambassador Xiao Qian. However, so far there have been no broader repercussions from the decision.

Prior to Yang’s sentencing, relations between China and Australia had been steadily improving following the election of a center-left Labor government in 2022. High-level official visits had resumed and Beijing removed tariffs and restrictions on Australian barley, coal and timber.

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.