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China: Canadian man appears in court on spying charges

March 19, 2021

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said there is "global solidarity" with two Canadian men detained in China, as Ottawa accuses Beijing of a ploy to secure the release of a detained ex-Huawei executive.

Michael Spavor
Michael Spavor is set to appear in court on FridayImage: picture-alliance/AP

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau slammed China over the detainment of a Canadian man who appeared in court on Friday to face spying charges.

In December 2018, Chinese authorities arrested businessman Michael Spavor and another Canadian citizen in apparent retaliation for Canada's arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei.

"Let me be very clear: Their arbitrary detention is completely unacceptable, as is the lack of transparency around these court proceedings," Trudeau told a news conference. 

A court statement said it was yet to determine the date to announce the verdict following a three-hour "private hearing."  

A separate trial for ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig, also arrested in 2018 and facing spying charges, would follow on Monday in Beijing.

'Global solidarity'

Envoys from Canada, the United States, France, Australia and five other countries reportedly stood outside the courthouse as authorities prohibited them from attending the trial. 

"China needs to understand that it is not just about two Canadians," Trudeau said as he thanked Canada's allies for displaying "global solidarity in this case."

 "It is about respect for the rule of law and relationships with a broad range of Western countries that is at play with the arbitrary detention and the coercive diplomacy they have engaged in."

Michael Kovrig
Michael Kovrig is said to be facing trial next weekImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo

The US called for the release of the Canadians, condemning the "lack of minimum procedural protections during their two years of arbitrary detention," said Jalina Porter, a State Department spokeswoman. 

Canadian diplomats said they were denied the right to attend both trials, in breach of international law and treaties between the two countries.

The court said Chinese law regarding trials on state security charges overrode such obligations, according to Jim Nickel, Charge d'affaires of the Canadian Embassy in Beijing.

What are both men accused of?

Spavor, an entrepreneur with North Korea-related business, was charged with spying for a foreign entity and illegally providing state secrets. 

Kovrig, an analyst and former diplomat, was charged with spying for state secrets and intelligence in collaboration with Spavor.

Prosecutors have not released more details of the charges and trial proceedings in national security cases are generally held behind closed doors. 

The state-owned Global Times newspaper said Kovrig was accused of having used an ordinary passport and business visa to enter China to steal sensitive information and intelligence through contacts in China since 2017.

Spavor is accused of being a key source of intelligence for Kovrig, according the pro-government newspaper.

Extradition hearing in Vancouver for Meng

Ex-Huawei executive Meng faced another extradition hearing on Thursday in Vancouver.

Ex-Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou
Ex-Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou is fighting extradition to the USImage: Jennifer Gauthier/Reuters

Her legal team argued that Canadian officials abused their power when they conspired with the US to arrest her. 

Defense lawyer Tony Paisana said Canadian Border Services Agency officers took Meng's phones, obtained their passwords, then handed to them to Canadian police so the data could be shared with the FBI.

China has demanded Meng's immediate and unconditional release, saying the US engineered her detention as part of a drive to contain China's growing rise.

Canadian authorities say Kovrig and Spavor were arbitrarily arrested to put pressure on Ottawa and say they should be released without charge.

fb, jf/msh (AFP, AP, EFE, Reuters)

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