SYDNEY, Australia — A Chinese diplomat who claims he was responsible for spying on Falun Gong and other dissidents in Australia was granted temporary residence yesterday while the immigration department assesses his request for a protection visa.
In hiding since late last month with his wife and daughter after Australia denied his request for political asylum, Chen Yonglin, 37, said the temporary visa offered little protection.
Beijing “won’t tolerate any official who would take actions against the Communist Party. For my case, some lawyers said that I may be sentenced to 15 years’ prison or even the death penalty,” Mr. Chen told Australian television late Monday.
Falun Gong is a spiritual movement that borrows from Buddhism and Taoism. Beijing has banned its practice.
Slight and bespectacled, Mr. Chen told reporters before he went into hiding May 26 that he was sick of his job that put innocent people and their families in danger.
Mr. Chen, whose father was killed during the height of the Cultural Revolution, participated in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests that ended in a massacre, he told the Australian newspaper.
Mr. Chen said he was ready to give the Australian government information about a network of 1,000 Chinese spies in Australia who report to Beijing.
The government of Prime Minister John Howard turned down the diplomat’s request for political asylum late last month. The government does not comment on individual immigration cases.
Human rights activists and government opponents say Australia’s rejection was prompted by trade issues.
China, which is Australia’s third-largest trading partner with annual exchanges worth $22.7 billion, is in talks with Canberra on a free-trade deal and a separate pact to import Australian uranium.
The U.S. Embassy also refused to help Mr. Chen.
“We do not give any information about applications for asylum to the U.S., but we can only confirm that Chen did approach us for asylum,” a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy said.
After Mr. Chen went public with his plight, another defector confirmed his claim about a spy network.
Hao Fenjung, also a former employee of the Chinese state security system, said he downloaded information from his office computer before coming to Australia as a tourist in February, but that authorities had shown little interest in his files.
Opposition politician Kevin Rudd accused the government of a “spectacular degree of incompetence” in dealing with the situation.
Chinese Ambassador to Australia Fu Ying said there is no Chinese spy network in Australia and that Mr. Chen is merely seeking an improved lifestyle.
Australia and China have said the diplomat’s asylum bid would not harm relations.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.