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Canadian Michael Spavor tried for ‘spying’ in northeast China

Michael-Spavor (Daehanmindecline/WikiCommons)
March 22, 2021

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

A Canadian national detained by the Chinese authorities days after the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou stood trial in the northeastern province of Liaoning on Friday for “spying.”

Michael Spavor, who was detained amid allegations of stealing state secrets more than two years ago, stood trial behind closed doors at the Intermediate People’s Court in Dandong city.

“The Dandong Intermediate People’s Court in Liaoning province held the trial behind closed doors of Canadian defendant Michael Spavor, on charges of spying for foreign countries and illegally leaking state secrets,” the court said in a statement on its website on Friday.

“Michael Spavor and his defense lawyers appeared in court and participated in the proceedings,” it said.

It said the court would pronounce sentence at a later date.

Journalists and diplomats sent to observe the trial were denied access to the court, according to news photos at the scene.

The entrance to the courthouse was roped off with police tape and journalists were kept outside, although not detained or told to leave, as often occurs during sensitive legal cases, according to the AP.

Police cars and vans with lights flashing passed through the gate to the court complex, located beside the Yalu River that divides China from North Korea, it said.

The trial ended around 12:00 p.m. after just two hours in session with no verdict announced, according to Jim Nickel, the Canadian Embassy’s deputy chief of mission, who was himself denied entry to the court.

Nickel declined to give other details, citing rules on protecting Spavor’s privacy, the AP report said.

But he said the refusal to admit Canadian diplomats was in breach of international and bilateral treaties.

Also accused

Fellow Canadian national Michael Kovrig will stand trial on Monday, on linked spying charges. Kovrig is accused of acting as a source of information for Spavor.

Kovrig stands accused of using an ordinary passport and business visa to enter China “to steal sensitive information and intelligence through contacts in China since 2017,” Chinese state media have reported.

Spavor’s charges rest on the allegation that he was “a key source of intelligence” for Kovrig, according to the Global Times newspaper.

Kovrig and Spavor were detained days after the arrest of Huawei Technologies’ chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver, sparking criticism that the move was a form of “hostage diplomacy” on the part of Beijing.

They stand accused of “stealing and illegally offering state secrets abroad,” and are being held at an unknown location under “residential surveillance at a designated location.”

Neither has been allowed access to a lawyer hired by their families or the embassy, and they have had visits only from consular staff, which have been suspended since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

‘Top priority for Canada’

Canadian foreign minister Marc Garneau confirmed that he had received notification of the trials, with Kovrig’s trial scheduled for Monday.

“The arbitrary detention of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor is a top priority for the Government of Canada and we continue to work tirelessly to secure their immediate release,” Garneau said.

“We believe these detentions are arbitrary, and remain deeply troubled by the lack of transparency surrounding these proceedings,” he said.

“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 said.

Meng was arrested in Vancouver on Dec. 1, 2018 pending a U.S. extradition request.

China has repeatedly called for her release, and has warned Canada that it could face consequences for aiding the United States in her case.

The espionage charges are deemed “particularly serious” by state prosecutors, meaning that Kovrig, 50, and Spavor, 44, could face sentences of anything between 10 years and life imprisonment.

Meng, the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, lost a legal bid to avoid extradition to the United States to face bank fraud charges, and the case isn’t likely to be decided finally until May.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said earlier this month that the spying charges against Kovrig and Spavor were trumped-up, warning that Ottawa won’t give in to political pressure from Beijing to release Meng.