The sons of Kevin and Julia Dawn Garratt, two Canadian citizens in Dandong who have been detained on suspicion of “espionage and stealing state secrets,” have defended their parents, calling the accusations “absurd.” Ben Blanchard from Reuters reports:
“They also asked me to pick up some clothes and toiletries for them, so I assume they are at the bureau,” he wrote.
In an earlier on-air interview with CBC News television, Peter Garratt said that at first he thought the news was a joke.
“It sounds ridiculous,” he said. “Military secrets? It sounds like something out of a movie or something. Those are the accusations, but I have no idea where they are coming from or how it even came about.” [Source]
According to a report by Kelly Olsen and Tom Hancock for AFP, the Garratts were active Christians who ran a coffee shop on the border with North Korea:
The Dandong region is a sensitive military area for China, and the border crossing is a key trade lifeline for nuclear-armed, diplomatically isolated North Korea.
It is also a focus for foreign Christian groups, including some from South Korea, with some working to assist North Koreans who secretly cross the border to escape from hardship and repression in their homeland.
[…] In an audio file posted on the website of the Terra Nova church in Surrey, British Columbia, and heard by AFP, Kevin Garratt tells the congregation: “We’re China based, we’re North Korea focused, but we’re Jesus centered.”
“God said, in a prayer meeting, go to Dandong and I’ll meet you there, and he said start a coffee house,” he said in a guest sermon dated November last year.
[…] “We’re trying to reach North Korea with God, with Jesus, and practical assistance.” [Source]
It is not clear whether the accusations against the Garratts are linked to religious activity, but proselytizing by foreigners is forbidden in China. Other speculation has posited that the detentions are retaliation for Canadian government accusations of hacking by China. Their son Simeon told CBC:
“I think it’s just the relations between Canada and China right now are quite heated, especially over all the hacking accusations that have gone on over the last two weeks … from what I can tell, the actual accusations have nothing to do with my parents, it’s just that they happen to be Canadian in a place of vulnerability.” [Source]