DANDONG, China – China on Friday tried one of two Canadians who had been held for more than two years in overt retaliation for Canada’s arrest of a senior Chinese telecommunications executive.
Canada said its consular officers were refused permission to participate in the trial against Michael Spavor, who is accused by China of stealing state secrets.
Jim Nickel, deputy head of mission at the Canadian embassy, said after meeting Spavor’s attorney that the hearing ended after two hours on Friday noon. No verdict was pronounced. Nickel declined to provide further details, referring to Spavor’s privacy rules.
In a statement posted on its website, the Dandong Intermediate People’s Court in northeastern Liaoning Province said it had held a hearing against Spavor on charges of espionage and the illegal transfer of state secrets overseas. It was said that Spavor and his lawyers were present at the trial and that the court would deliver a judgment at a time “determined in accordance with the law”.
Canadian compatriot Michael Kovrig will go to court on Monday. The two were arrested in December 2018, days after Huawei manager Meng Wanzhou was arrested at Vancouver Airport at the request of the United States. Both are charged with espionage.
The entrance to the courthouse was cordoned off and journalists were detained outside despite not being arrested or ordered to leave, as is often the case in sensitive legal cases. Police cars and vans with flashing lights drove through the gate to the courthouse, which is next to the Yalu, which separates China from North Korea.
Nickel had previously knocked on a court door to gain entry, but was denied. Another 10 diplomats from eight countries, including the US, UK and Australia, stood on the street across from the courthouse to demonstrate their support.
International and bilateral treaties required China to give Canadian diplomats access to the trial, but the court said China’s Law on Trials of State Security Fees has overridden such obligations, Nickel said.
Spavor and Kovrig were arrested in December 2018, days after Meng was arrested at the airport in Vancouver, British Columbia at the request of the United States. The US is seeking extradition to counter allegations of fraud related to the telecommunications giant’s dealings with Iran, which are subject to US financial sanctions.
The two Canadians have since been held while Meng was released on bail. They were accused in June 2020 of spying under China’s broadly defined national security laws.
Spavor, an entrepreneur with North Korean business, was accused of spying and illegally acquiring state secrets for a foreign entity. Kovrig, an analyst and former diplomat, was accused of illegally obtaining state secrets and intelligence agencies in collaboration with Spavor.
Prosecutors have not released details of the charges and national security cases are routinely held behind closed doors. The state-run Global Times newspaper said Kovrig was accused of using a regular passport and business visa to enter China since 2017 to steal confidential information and information about contacts in China, while Spavor was accused of being an important source of information for To be kovrig.
Meng’s case enraged the Chinese government, which has promoted Huawei as the world leader in mobile communications technology.
In Vancouver, Meng’s attorneys reported an extradition Thursday that Canadian officials had abused their power by conspiring with the United States to arrest her. Defense attorney Tony Paisana said officers from the Canadian Border Services Agency took Meng’s phones, obtained their passwords, and then turned them over to the Canadian police so that the data could be shared with the FBI.
Paisana said Meng never found out during questioning that she was facing an arrest warrant in the United States and would have asked for a lawyer immediately if she was informed. Heather Holmes, associate chief justice at the British Columbia’s Supreme Court, suggested that border guards questioned Meng more strictly if her exam had indeed been an undercover criminal investigation, her lawyers said.
China has called for Meng’s immediate and unconditional release, saying the US planned her detention as part of an effort to stem China’s growing rise. According to the Canadian authorities, Kovrig and Spavor were arbitrarily arrested for pressure purposes on Ottawa and were to be released without charge.
China has also restricted various Canadian exports, including canola seeds, and sentenced to death four other Canadians convicted of drug smuggling.
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Outside the courthouse, Nickel said Canada still had hopes that Spavor and Kovrig could be released through a concerted effort with the US, whose Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan are currently having their first face-to-face meetings with China’s top diplomats in Anchorage, Alaska.
“So we are confident that this process can, to some extent, lead to their immediate release,” said Nickel.
In Canada, the von Spavor family issued a statement saying that they had “very limited access and interaction with his appointed Chinese defense attorney,” according to the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail.
“At this point, we feel it is necessary to speak out and ask for his unconditional release. His continued unjust detention, which deprives him of his liberty, is both unfair and unreasonable, especially given the lack of transparency in the case, ”the newspaper quoted the statement as saying.