Court dates set for two Canadians detained in China on espionage charges

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    In a statement Thursday, Canada’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Marc Garneau, said the country’s embassy in Beijing “has been notified that court hearings for Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig are scheduled to take place on March 19 and March 22, respectively.”
    The two Canadians have been detained since December 2018 and were charged in June last year with spying.
    Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat who worked for the International Crisis Group (ICG), is accused by the Chinese authorities of “stealing sensitive information and intelligence through contacts in China since 2017,” while Spavor, a businessman based in Beijing with a focus on North Korea, is accused of providing intelligence to Kovrig.
    Chinese officials have not disclosed any evidence against the two men or information detailing their alleged crimes, but have said, “the facts are clear and evidence is solid.”
    The two men were detained following the arrest in Vancouver of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese tech giant Huawei, over allegations the company violated United States sanctions on Iran. Meng — whose extradition hearing is currently ongoing — has been held under house arrest in Vancouver since 2018.
    Spavor’s trial will be taking place as US and Chinese officials are meeting in Alaska, the first time such high level discussions have taken place since Joe Biden became president.
    US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who will be representing Washington at the meeting, has previously spoken out in support of the two Canadians, calling for them to be released “immediately and unconditionally.”

    ‘Political’ prosecution

    Family members and contacts of the two Canadian men have described them being held in poor conditions, and denied outside contact. Almost all in-person consular visits to foreign prisoners in China have been paused since last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, with diplomats only able to speak to those detained via the phone.
    After Kovrig and Spavor were charged with espionage last year, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau denounced the “political” nature of their case, saying their detention was a “decision made by the Chinese government and we deplore it.”
    Trudeau has repeatedly refused to consider any trade of the two Canadians for Meng, whose detention has seen relations plunge between Ottawa and Beijing. Last month, Canada’s parliament approved a non-binding motion accusing China of committing genocide against its Muslim minorities in the western region of Xinjiang, further straining ties between the two countries.
    In his statement Thursday, Garneau said Canada believes the detention of Kovrig and Spavor “are arbitrary, and remain deeply troubled by the lack of transparency surrounding these proceedings.”
    “Canadian officials are seeking continued consular access to Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig, in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and the China-Canada Consular Agreement, and have also requested to attend the proceedings,” he added. “Canadian officials will continue to provide consular support to these men and their families during this unacceptable ordeal.”
    Both the administrations of former US President Donald Trump, and now US President Joe Biden have pledged to do all they can to assist the two Canadians, with Vice President Kamala Harris telling Trudeau in a phone call in February that Washington was in “strong solidarity with Canada regarding the issue of two Canadian citizens unjustly detained by China.”

    Two Canadian citizens charged with espionage in China will go on trial Friday and Monday, more than two years after they were first detained.

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