Michael Kovrig Denied Access to Lawyers

Bloomberg is reporting that Canadian , who was detained in Beijing on suspicion of threatening China’s national security, has not been allowed to see a lawyer or his family and is permitted one meeting with a consular official per month:

The conditions are among the first details of Michael Kovrig’s detention since the International Crisis Group senior adviser was taken into custody by China’s spy agency on Dec. 10. The case — along with that of another Canadian citizen detained on the same day — have plunged Canada’s ties with its second-largest trading partner into crisis. Canada’s government on Friday for the first time called the detentions “arbitrary.”

“We are deeply concerned by the arbitrary detention by Chinese authorities of two Canadians earlier this month and call for their immediate release,” Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said in a statement.

Kovrig is being held at a secret detention facility where he’s questioned three times a day and unable to turn off the light, said the person, who asked not to be identified discussing the case. He’s been allowed one 30-minute visit by Canadian Ambassador John McCallum in Beijing, in which he appeared stressed but unharmed, the person said. [Source]

Kovrig, a former diplomat, is currently employed by the International Crisis Group, which has called for his release, according to AFP:

Michael Kovrig “has not been allowed access to his lawyers. The arrest is unjustified,” said Hugh Pope, a spokesman for the International Crisis Group, a thinktank that analyzes conflicts and geopolitical flashpoints.

“We call for him to be released immediately, and at a minimum for him to be allowed regular consular access, contact with his family and to see his legal counsel,” Pope said. [Source]

While the Foreign Ministry initially stated that ICG had not properly registered in China according to new rules established in the Foreign NGO Management Law, subsequent government statements have confirmed that he is in fact being held for violations. His employer has insisted that he was not violating Chinese law during his visit and that his detention could have far-reaching impact on others working in the NGO and diplomatic communities in China. From Keegan Elmer at South China Morning Post:

[Robert Malley, president of International Crisis Group] said he would like to speak with Chinese officials about Kovrig’s role in China, and to push for his immediate release. “Our sense was that it was work that they appreciate … I think they saw benefit from hearing our analysis of conflicts around the world. There’s no mystery,” he said.

[…] Malley said Kovrig’s arrest could have a chilling effect for the many foreigners working in China.

“If this was directed at what he did as a diplomat, then this would be a troubling message to diplomats from any country who – years later – may be detained for activities that they engaged in legitimately as diplomats,” he said.

“The other option is that he’s being detained for what he did at Crisis Group and [his work] is about as open and transparent an activity as one could imagine,” Malley added. “That could have a chilling effect not just for NGO [staff], but for academics, businesspeople – for anyone.” [Source]

Kovrig apparently shares joint citizenship in Canada and Hungary, and the Hungarian government is also requesting consular access but has not yet had it granted, according to Ben Blanchard at Reuters:

Several sources familiar with the situation told Reuters that Kovrig also has Hungarian nationality, a factor that could escalate the situation and put further pressure on China by involving the European Union, China’s largest trading partner.

Two of the sources said that the Hungarian embassy in Beijing has been seeking access to Kovrig too.

“It’s not been granted yet,” one of them said.

The second source said the Hungarian embassy in Beijing is treating it as a consular case and going through the “normal process”, also confirming consular access had not been granted yet. [Source]

Michael Spavor, another Canadian who was detained the same day as Kovrig on similar accusations, has also had a consular visit but few details about the reasons for or conditions of his detention have been released. His friends have initiated a crowdsourced funding account to help support his legal fees and the possible loss of his employment. Spavor ran an organization in Dandong which facilitated cultural and business exchanges with North Korea. From Laura Zhou and Lee Jeong-ho at South China Morning Post:

According to the campaign, hosted by crowdfunding platform GoFundMe, money raised will help with “any legal, medical or transport bills once he is out”.

The money will be given to Spavor’s brother and may also be used to pay any potential fines in China, as well as to provide start-up capital in support of his new life outside the country.

[…] Andray Abrahamian, a North Korea specialist and Koret Fellow at Stanford University, as well as a friend of Spavor’s, said he was worried the Canadian may never be able to recover his possessions, including his organisation PCE.

“He [probably won’t be] able to run his small non-profit, which focuses on North Korea but requires transit, if not residence, in China,” Abrahamian said. [Source]

Meanwhile, a third Canadian, Sarah McIver, has also been detained in China over visa complications, in what appears to be an unrelated case. She will reportedly return to Canada. Relations between Canada and China have quickly deteriorated following the arrest in Vancouver of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, who the U.S. is attempting to extradite on fraud charges. Many see the detentions in China as retribution for Meng’s arrest. Today the Canadian government issued a strong statement against the recent detentions in China:


The Canadian embassy in China has also offered a rebuke to China’s human rights record by honoring the late Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo on their Weibo account:

Other governments have also issued statements in support of Kovrig and Spavor:

At The Star Vancouver, Perrin Grauer and Joanna Chiu profile several of the close to 200 Canadians who are currently imprisoned in China, but have not received the same international attention as the recent detainees:

Some were Canadians of Chinese origin who entered China using Chinese documentation. Under the Vienna Convention, Beijing can deny consular access or visitation rights in these situations.

In other cases, Canadian officials have been confronted with a vast gulf between Chinese and Canadian judicial standards, leaving communities mystified and families desperate for answers as their loved ones remain out of contact.

Governments need to step up their warnings to citizens travelling to China, said Sophie Richardson, China director of Human Rights Watch.

“I think they have to admit that if their citizens are detained in China, there are more circumstances in which it appears that there is little those governments might be able to do to ensure people’s release. And that’s a pretty frightening reality,” Richardson told StarMetro. [Source]