A Chinese-born Australian spy novelist who disappeared in China has been contacted and says he is in a hospital, though a friend claimed Wednesday he may be in the custody of secret police.
The Sydney-based spy novelist and political blogger Yang Hengjun disappeared shortly after phoning his assistant from Guangzhou airport in southeastern China on Sunday to say three men were following him, said his friend Feng Chongyi, an associate professor in China Studies at the University of Technology in Sydney.
He later phoned his sister to give a prearranged signal that meant he had been detained by the secret police, Feng said.
Feng said one of his students in Guangzhou was able to phone Yang on Wednesday. Yang told the student he was in a hospital but was healthy and had been out of contact because his cellphone ran out of power.
"We have a very bizarre situation now," Feng said.
"It's my guess that the authorities just want the situation to calm down and then will let him walk away, but he has to deny that he was held by authorities until he leaves China," he added.
Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement that Yang spoke to his family Wednesday "to say he was well."
"We are seeking urgently to speak to him directly to confirm his situation," the department said.
The department said China had not advised Australia that Yang had been detained. China's Foreign Ministry has said it has no information on Yang.
Feng said he had been unable to contact Yang from Sydney by phone but had been told by the student of the contact by email. The Associated Press was also unable to contact Yang by phone Wednesday.
Yang, 46, was an official in the Chinese Foreign Ministry before moving to Australia. His novel, "Fatal Weakness," deals with espionage between China and the United States and has been published on the Internet in China.
He also writes a blog that discusses sensitive issues, criticizing the widespread government corruption and wealth gap that have accompanied China's rapid growth. His writings also have called for democracy, saying the power to make decisions lies with the people.
Yang spends most of his time in China, although his wife and two children live in their Sydney home, Feng said.
London-based human rights group Amnesty International on Wednesday demanded that China reveal Yang's whereabouts.
"Yang Hengjun's disappearance is extremely worrying, especially as it comes during one of the biggest roundups of activists and critics for years," Amnesty's Catherine Baber said in a statement.
Amnesty said it has logged dozens of arrests, detentions and disappearances of activists, Twitter-users and bloggers since February, when online calls for protests similar to those in the Middle East and North Africa began to circulate.