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China jails Canadian businessman Michael Spavor for 11 years on ‘spying’ charges

Michael-Spavor (Daehanmindecline/WikiCommons)
August 12, 2021

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

Another Canadian national detained by the Chinese authorities days after the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver has been handed an 11-year jail term by a court in the northeastern province of Liaoning on spying charges.

Michael Spavor, who was detained amid allegations of stealing state secrets more than two years ago, was sentenced on Wednesday by the Dandong Intermediate People’s Court.

“On Aug. 11, 2021, the Intermediate People’s Court of Dandong city, Liaoning province announced the sentence in the case of Canadian defendant Michael Spavor for spying, and illegally leading state secrets overseas,” the court said in a statement on its website.

“The court found Michael Spavor guilty [and] he was sentenced to 11 years in prison, confiscation of personal property worth 50,000 yuan and deportation,” the statement said.

Canadian ambassador to China Dominic Barton visited Spavor in detention after the sentence was announced relayed three messages to the outside world.

“Thank you for all your support,” Spavor said. “I am in good spirits. I want to get home.”

The Spavor family said in a statement that they “disagree” with the charges.

“While we disagree with the charges, we realize that this is the next step in the process to bring Michael home and we will continue to support him through this challenging time,” the statement said.

Hostage diplomacy

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the ruling was “absolutely unacceptable” and called for Spavor’s immediate release, while the U.S. embassy in Beijing said the trials and sentencing of Spavor and fellow Canadian Michael Kovrig were a bid by China to “use human beings as bargaining leverage”.

“China’s conviction and sentencing of Michael Spavor is absolutely unacceptable and unjust,” said Trudeau in a statement.

“The verdict for Mr. Spavor comes after more than two and a half years of arbitrary detention, a lack of transparency in the legal process, and a trial that did not satisfy even the minimum standards required by international law,” he said.

Chinese lawyer Zhang Dongshuo said the mention of deportation meant after Spavor was released.

“The law says he needs to serve his sentence, which could mean a commuted sentence or one shortened due to parole,” Zhang said. “Then he will be deported after he is released.”

Zhang said Spavor couldn’t now be given a harsher jail term “unless it is discovered he has committed a new crime that wasn’t previously known about.”

“If he is charged with a new crime, he will receive a heavier sentence.”

Risk to travelers

Joseph Cheng, former politics lecturer at Hong Kong’s City University, said Spavor’s case is highly political, given the current diplomatic row over Meng Wanzhou.

“The Chinese government wants to politicize these cases so as to put pressure on the Canadian government,” Cheng said, adding that such a move will increase the risk to travelers and expat workers in China.

He said Trudeau’s statement contained “elements of warning, mostly indicating that this has seriously affected ties between Canada, other Western countries, and China.”

Spavor’s sentencing came as lawyers in Canada representing the chief financial officer of Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, Meng Wanzhou, continue to battle her extradition to the U.S.

Meng, Huawei’s chief financial officer, was arrested by Canadian police at Vancouver airport on Dec. 1, 2018 at the request of U.S. investigators, who have charged her with misleading HSBC Holdings about Huawei’s business dealings in Iran.

Days later, Chinese authorities arrested eight Canadian nationals, including Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, and handed down a death sentence to convicted Canadian drug trafficker Robert Schellenberg, who had been serving a 15-year jail term.

The arrests and resentencing sparked criticism that the moves were a form of “hostage diplomacy” on the part of Beijing.

Michael Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat detained amid allegations of stealing state secrets more than two years ago, stood trial behind closed doors at the No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court in Beijing on March 22, 2021, three days after Spavor’s trial.

Kovrig was 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 rested on the allegation that he was “a key source of intelligence” for Kovrig, according to the Global Times newspaper.