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China charges two Canadians with spying

June 19, 2020

Ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor were arrested for alleged espionage in 2018 after Canada detained a Huawei executive. They stand accused of "leaking state secrets."

Kombobild - Michael Kovrig und Michael Spavor wurden in China festgenommen

Chinese prosecutors on Friday formally charged two Canadians with spying. 

The Supreme People's Procuratorate said former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor, who have been detained for over 18 months, were "suspected of foreign espionage" and "providing state secrets."

Monthy consular visits for Kovrig and Spavor have also been suspended since the coronavirus outbreak began in China, over concerns over poor health, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in April.

However, China's foreign ministry claims that the pair are still in good health, and that the facility where they are being held is in a region "not particularly affected by COVID-19."

Read more:Sieren's China: No transparency in China's arrest of Canadians 

The background to the case

The pair were originally detained in 2018, shortly after Canada arrested Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou on a US warrant. Beijing has, however, denied any link between Meng's case and detention of the two Canadians. 

Read more:Explained: Huawei's Meng Wanzhou US extradition trial 

In May this year, a court in Canada ruled that proceedings to extradite Meng to the US could go ahead. Meng's case is now moving into a second phase, when the defense will challenge the lawfulness of her arrest.

The US wants Meng extradited to face trial on charges related to Huawei's alleged violations of US sanctions against Iran. Diplomatic relations between Canada and China have taken a nosedive over the arrests, while China's embassy in the capital Ottawa accused the US of "trying to bring down Huawei."

Read more:EU rules out Huawei ban — but maps out strict rules on 5G 

China has also blocked billions in Candian agricultural exports, including suspending imports of Canadian canola oil.

Canadian foreign minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said that after the May ruling on Meng, Canada would "continue to pursue principled engagement with China to address our bilateral differences." He also said that Canada would continue to work for the release of Kovrig and Spavor, "who have been arbitrarily detained for over 500 days," and for clemency for a third Chanadian, Robert Schellenberg, who is facing execution for drug trafficking charges.

lc/rt (AFP, AP)