Canadian Michael Spavor Sentenced to 11 Years as Meng Wanzhou Extradition Decision Looms

Michael Spavor, one of two Canadians arrested in 2018 after the detention of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver, has been sentenced to 11 years in prison for espionage and transferring state secrets overseas. Michael Kovrig, the other Canadian arrested after Meng’s detention, has not been sentenced yet. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the sentencing “absolutely unacceptable and unjust” and said Spavor’s trial “did not satisfy even the minimum standards required by international law.” The day before Spavor’s sentencing, a Chinese court upheld the death penalty for Canadian Robert Lloyd Schellenberg. All three cases are widely perceived as Chinese “hostage diplomacy” adopted in hopes of preventing Meng’s extradition to the United States. At The New York Times, Chris Buckley, Dan Bilefsky, and Tracy Sherlock reported on Spavor’s sentencing, which they wrote was a “warning about the growing risks of operating in China”:

“Call them hostages, call them what you like, but their fate — and this is how China wants it to look — is intertwined with Ms. Meng’s fate,” John Kamm, an American businessman and founder of the Dui Hua Foundation, which seeks to win the release of prisoners in China, especially in human rights cases, said by telephone.

[…] The specifics of the charges against Mr. Spavor are unclear. The court in Dandong said in a one-sentence statement that he was guilty of obtaining state secrets and illegally passing them to an unnamed foreign recipient. Mr. Spavor may not have to serve out his full sentence; the court said that he would be deported, though it gave no details about the timing.

[…] Mr. Spavor’s family, which has said little publicly about him or the trial, released a statement through a lawyer, striking a somewhat hopeful note: “While we disagree with the charges, we realize that this is the next step in the process to bring Michael home.”

[…] “Spavor did not come off as very political, or ideological for that matter,” said John Delury, a professor of Chinese studies at Yonsei University in Seoul. “Creating bridges with North Koreans is incredibly challenging, mostly thankless work, but Michael approached it with an entrepreneurial spirit.” [Source]

NYU legal scholar Jerome Cohen and others addressed the possibility of deportation on Twitter:

At The Washington Post, Eva Dou provided further detail on the charges against Spavor and the conditions in which he has been held:

In 2019, the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission issued a statement alleging that Kovrig “had spied on and stolen sensitive information and intelligence through contacts in China” and calling Spavor a “key intelligence contact” of Kovrig’s.

[…] Advocates for Spavor and Kovrig have highlighted the disparity between their living conditions in Chinese prisons and Meng’s under house arrest in Canada, as they await the end of their criminal proceedings. Meng has been living in a seven-bedroom mansion in Vancouver, going on shopping trips to designer stores, and she has been able to receive visits from family members and friends while the extradition hearing proceeds. Spavor and Kovrig have been held in cramped cells in separate prisons since their arrest, and they have been allowed only a handful of calls with family members and 25 visits each from consular officials. [Source]

Schellenberg’s death sentence is also widely viewed as retaliation for Meng’s arrest. Schellenberg was arrested in 2014 for trafficking methamphetamine and sentenced to 15 years in prison in November 2018. After Meng was detained, Schellenberg was sentenced to death in a one-day retrial. At The Wall Street Journal, Eva Xiao reported on the court’s decision to uphold the verdict:

Robert Schellenberg was found to have engaged in organized international drug smuggling and was guilty of smuggling more than 200 kilograms of methamphetamine together with others, the Liaoning High People’s Court in northeastern China said. The ruling, announced on the court’s website Tuesday, called the evidence presented at his initial trial “reliable and sufficient.”

[…] Zhang Dongshuo, a lawyer for Mr. Schellenberg who attended Tuesday’s verdict, said after the hearing that he wasn’t surprised by the court’s decision, adding that Mr. Schellenberg’s fate would be decided by the Supreme People’s Court, China’s highest, which conducts a standard review process for capital punishment cases.

[…] Mr. Schellenberg’s retrial and subsequent death sentence, which came weeks after Messrs. Kovrig and Spavor’s detentions, was unusual in the speed with which it took place, said Taisu Zhang, a professor at Yale Law School who focuses on contemporary Chinese law and politics.

But everything appears to have been done in compliance with Chinese criminal-law procedures, Prof. Zhang said before Mr. Schellenberg’s verdict. Though there is a chance China’s highest court would overturn Mr. Schellenberg’s death sentence, the odds are likely extremely low, said Prof. Zhang, who isn’t related to Mr. Schellenberg’s lawyer. [Source]

At The Globe and Mail, James Griffiths and Steven Chase reported on Canadian leaders’ reactions to Spavor and Schellenberg’s sentences:

Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China, said the men are victims of China’s “hostage diplomacy,” something it has used for decades. China has made it a common practice to engage in tit-for-tat arrests and charges – as well as trade sanctions – as part of a pattern of coercive foreign relations, he said.

[…] “The denial of Robert Schellenberg’s appeals must be seen for what it is – a foreign government planning to take the life of a Canadian for political reasons. The use of the death penalty is abhorrent, but to impose it for political reasons is inexcusable,” [Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole] said.

[…] Mr. Saint-Jacques said the only hope for Mr. Schellenberg now is if his case becomes part of a “grand bargain” swap deal, where the U.S. would drop its extradition request for Ms. Meng in exchange for prisoners, including Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig, being sent home. [Source]

The Global Times published an un-bylined piece claiming the Chinese public’s “broad support” for the sentences:

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, while Spavor was accused of being a key source of intelligence for Kovrig.

[…] On Tuesday, Canadian drug smuggler Robert Lloyd Schellenberg’s death penalty was upheld by the High People’s Court of Liaoning Province in a second trial. The case has won broad support from the Chinese public, as many detest drug trafficking and believe that having mercy with drug dealers is equal to infringing the rights of millions of Chinese.

[…] Canada claims to be a country under the rule of law and advocates for the so-called “judicial independence.” However, some Canadian politicians and media have repeatedly attacked China’s judicial system, making wild comments on China’s handling of cases involving Canadian citizens in accordance with the law. This is extremely absurd and hypocritical, the Chinese Embassy in Canada said in a statement in response to Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Marc Garneau’s statement. The minister condemned the sentence and said the punishment is cruel and inhumane. [Source]

At Reuters, Moira Warburton covered the final weeks of Meng Wanzhou’s extradition trial:

The hearings, expected to last until Aug. 20, will initially focus on the third part of her lawyers’ arguments, specifically that U.S. prosecutors materially misrepresented the case against her in their extradition request to Canada.

[…] The defense has called the U.S. record of the case “manifestly unreliable,” which Canadian prosecutors dispute.

After this stage is completed, hearings will then move to the remedy stage, which will address Meng’s allegations that abuses of process occurred during her arrest. After that, a committal hearing, to determine whether there is sufficient evidence against Meng for her to stand trial, will take place. [Source]

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