Canadians held in China on spying charges face trial within days

Michael Spavor (L) and Michael Kovrig (composite image)
Michael Spavor (L) and Michael Kovrig have been held since December 2018

Two Canadians charged with spying in China are to go on trial in the next few days, Canadian officials have said.

Foreign Minister Marc Garneau said they had been notified that hearings for Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig would take place on 19 and 22 March. Mr Spavor and Mr Kovrig were arrested more than two years ago. Their detention came shortly after Canada detained Meng Wanzhou, a senior executive at Chinese tech giant Huawei, on a US warrant.

Ms Meng has been under house arrest in Vancouver and is fighting extradition to the US. She is charged with lying to American banks about Huawei’s alleged dealings with Iran, in violation of US sanctions. Both she and Huawei deny any wrongdoing. Mr Garneau told a news conference on Wednesday that Mr Spavor was scheduled to appear in court on Friday and Mr Kovrig on Monday, according to the notification from Chinese authorities to the embassy in Beijing. It is unclear how long the legal process might take.

“We believe these detentions are arbitrary and remain deeply troubled by the lack of transparency surrounding these proceedings,” he told reporters. He said ending the men’s detention remained a top priority, and Canadian officials were seeking consular access, as well as requesting to attend the proceedings. The two Canadians have been held in prison since their arrest in December 2018. They were formally indicted in June last year, both face lengthy jail terms if found guilty.

Huawei Technologies Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou arrives at court following a lunch break in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada March 15, 2021
Meng Wanzhou, seen here arriving in court in Vancouver, has been under house arrest

Mr Kovrig worked for the International Crisis Group think tank. Before his arrest he frequently met Chinese officials, spoke at conferences and appeared on Chinese media to comment on regional issues. Mr Spavor is a founding member of the Paektu Cultural Exchange, an organisation which facilitates international business and cultural ties with North Korea. China has previously denied that their cases are connected to Ms Meng’s detention, but it has consistently linked them to its demands that she be released.

US President Joe Biden has publicly supported calls for the men’s release. Following a call with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in February, he said: “Human beings are not bartering chips. We’re going to work together until we get their safe return.”

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