Two Canadians Arrested on State Secrets Charges

Two Canadians Arrested on State Secrets Charges

Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have been arrested for “gathering state secrets” and “stealing and providing secrets for overseas forces,” respectively. Both men have spent over five months in detention. Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat, had been working with the International Crisis Group, while Spavor is a consultant for businesses and individuals trying to work in North Korea. Chris Buckley, Javier C. Hernández, and Dan Bilefsky report for The New York Times:

Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat who was detained while visiting Beijing, was arrested on suspicion of “gathering state secrets and intelligence for abroad,” and Michael Spavor, a business consultant who was detained in northeastern China, was accused of “stealing and providing state secrets for abroad,” Lu Kang, a spokesman for the foreign ministry, said at a regularly scheduled news briefing.

The vague reference to unspecified overseas entities left open the question of whether the men were suspected of working for a government or for some other organization.

Mr. Lu did not provide further details and said only that the arrests had been made recently.

“Everything in China is done in accordance with law,” Mr. Lu said. [Source]

Nathan VanderKlippe, Robert Fife, and Steven Chase report for the Globe and Mail on the Canadian government’s reaction:

Canada has publicly condemned China’s treatment of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor.

“One of the things we see increasingly around the world is that the Chinese government is not following the rules and principles that the large majority of democracies follow in regards to a rules-based order, in regards to international relations,” Mr. Trudeau said Thursday. He is in Paris for international meetings on combating online hate speech, disinformation and election interference campaigns.

The Prime Minister said Canada continues to try to explain to China that this country follows the rule of law and does not interfere in the justice system to arrange outcomes such as the one Beijing seeks.

“We will consistently and always stand up for Canadians, particularly these Canadians who have been arbitrarily detained. We will also make it very clear we are not going to change our values or our systems, including the independence of our justice system, because China disagrees with our approach.” [Source]

The detention of the two Canadians has been widely viewed as retaliation for Ottawa’s arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, who is in Vancouver awaiting a hearing over her extradition to the U.S. on charges of bank and wire fraud as well as violating Iran sanctions. While Huawei has claimed to operate completely independently from government interference, observers have pointed out that the political reality in China undermines that assertion. From Thomson Reuters:

Guy Saint-Jacques, one of Canada’s former ambassadors to China, said their fates are likely already sealed.

“Once you are formally accused in the Chinese system, you are found guilty in 99.9 per cent of the cases. What we’ll have to watch now is what is exactly the nature of the accusations and whether the penalty could include the death penalty,” he said.

“We’re dealing with some very difficult people.”

While Canada says China has made no specific link between the detentions of the two men and Meng’s arrest, experts and former diplomats say they have no doubt it is using their cases to pressure Canada.

“The Chinese leaders have probably come to the conclusion that the extradition process of Mrs. Meng is going to last likely a long time and therefore they have decided to up the ante,” said Saint-Jacques. [Source]

The Trump administration recently upped the ante in the U.S. battle against Huawei when the Commerce Department announced broad new restrictions against U.S. companies using Huawei technology. The U.S. has already accused Huawei of violating Iran sanctions, leading to Meng’s arrest. Chinese propaganda authorities have tried to limit news coverage within China of Meng’s extradition proceedings. Human rights activists and others have pointed out that while Meng has been granted a legal defense team, open hearings, and permission to live in her multimillion dollar Vancouver home while awaiting her hearings, Kovrig and Spavor have in their five months of detention undergone near constant interrogation, have not been allowed to see their families or lawyers, and have not been allowed outside. Earlier this week, Canadian officials were granted consular access to Kovrig. Following Meng’s detention, two Canadians have been sentenced to death in China on drug charges.

June 2020: This post has been updated to clarify that Kovrig and Spavor were arrested but have not yet been formally charged under Chinese law.


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