Michael Kovrig Tried in Beijing, No Verdict Announced

Canadian Michael Kovrig was brought to trial in Beijing Monday on espionage charges after being held since December 2018. Michael Spavor, another Canadian who was detained at the same time, was tried on Dandong on March 18. Both men’s detentions came shortly after that of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Canada on an extradition order from the U.S. No verdict has been announced in either case, and foreign journalists and diplomats were barred from entering either courthouse. Diplomats from 26 countries were present at the Beijing court in a show of solidarity. At The New York Times, Javier C. Hernández reports on Kovrig’s trial:

The proceedings were conducted in secret, with the Chinese authorities barring foreign diplomats and journalists from attending. In a show of support for Mr. Kovrig, more than two dozen diplomats representing several countries, including Canada and the United States, tried to gain access to the courtroom, only to be turned away by security personnel.

Government officials, legal scholars and human rights activists denounced China’s decision to hold the trial, just days after another Canadian, Michael Spavor, a businessman who was also detained in 2018, appeared before a court in Dandong, a northeastern city. Critics have described the trials as a sham and say China is resorting to “hostage diplomacy.”

[…] China on Monday defended its decision to go forward with the trial of Mr. Kovrig. The court in Beijing said in a brief statement that he was tried on charges of “gathering state secrets and intelligence for foreign countries” and that a verdict would be announced at a later date.

In combative remarks, Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, rejected criticism that the trials should be open to the public and accused Canada of acting as an accomplice to American efforts to undermine China. [Source]

Canadian officials have not been allowed to visit Kovrig in detention, and they were prevented from attending the trial as well, in contravention of the consular agreement between the two countries. Emily Feng reports for NPR:

[Jim Nickel, charge d’affaires at the Canadian embassy in China] said the Canadian Embassy had not been granted consular access to Kovrig before the trial. The embassy has also not been told which lawyers are representing Kovrig and Spavor in court.

“We remain deeply concerned at the lack of minimum procedures and protections granted to the two Canadian citizens during their two years of arbitrary detention,” said William Klein, acting deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. He spoke outside the Beijing courthouse where Kovrig was tried Monday morning.

China said the diplomats trying to attend Kovrig’s trial had interfered with its judicial sovereignty.

“Canada gathered some embassy staff and meddled in the individual case of a Canadian citizen handled in accordance with Chinese law,” Hua Chunying, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson told NPR today. “We advise Canada that its scheme to gang on up China will never succeed.” [Source]

As in Spavor’s trial, the government made very little information available about the proceedings or likely outcome, though many observers expect both men to be convicted. From Gerry Shih of The Washington Post:

The Beijing Second People’s Intermediate Court posted a one-sentence statement Monday evening saying that Kovrig faced espionage charges behind closed doors because his case involves state secrets, after more than two dozen Western diplomats were rebuffed when they tried to enter the courthouse in the morning.

The verdict on Kovrig — if there is one — would be announced “at a selected time, according to law,” the court said, echoing an announcement a northeastern Chinese court issued about Spavor on Friday.

[…] But after 10 hours, Kovrig’s trial ended like the March 19 trial of businessman Michael Spavor, the other Canadian involved in the case: with no verdict, no transparency around court proceedings and no new information about the fate of either man. [Source]

Peter Dahlin, the executive director of Safeguard Defenders who was himself detained in China in early 2016, told the Toronto Star that he expects the Canadians to be convicted and then released:

“They’re going to be convicted. There’s too much invested in this at this point,” Dahlin said.

“China needs to save face, so there will be some form of trial, I’m pretty certain, no matter what, but with the understanding they will be released upon a verdict.”

Yaxue Cao, the founder of the Washington-based digital publication China Change, said she’s not as optimistic.

[…] “I doubt they will be released, because (the Chinese government wants) their woman back,” Cao said, referring to Meng. [Source]

The trials come as high-level talks between China and the U.S. turned acrimonious, and a coalition of states in Europe, Canada, and the U.S. imposed sanctions against Chinese officials over abuses in Xinjiang, while China fired back by sanctioning European officials and organizations, including MERICS.

Journalists tweeted from outside the Beijing courthouse on Monday:


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