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Court dates set for two Canadians detained in China on espionage charges

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In a statement Thursday, Canadian Foreign Minister Marc Garneau said the country’s embassy in Beijing “has been notified that Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig’s court hearings are scheduled to take place on March 19 and 22, respectively. “.

The two Canadians have been in custody since December 2018 and were charged in June last year with espionage.

Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat working for the International Crisis Group (ICG), is accused by Chinese authorities of “stealing sensitive information and intelligence through contacts in China since 2017,” while Spavor, a businessman based in Beijing North Korea is accused of providing intelligence to Kovrig.

Chinese officials have not revealed any evidence against the two men or information detailing their alleged crimes, but have said: “The facts are clear and the evidence is solid.”

The two men were arrested after the arrest in Vancouver of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese technology giant Huawei, on charges that the company violated U.S. sanctions on Iran. Meng, whose extradition hearing is ongoing, has been held under house arrest in Vancouver since 2018.
Spavor’s trial will take place as U.S. and Chinese officials meet in Alaska, the first time such high-profile discussions have taken place since Joe Biden became president.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who will represent Washington at the meeting, has done so previously expressed in support of the two Canadians, demanding that they be released “immediately and unconditionally.”

“Political” processing

There are family members and contacts of the two Canadian men described that they were kept in poor condition, and denied external contact. Almost all consular visits taken to foreign prisoners in China have been stopped since last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, and diplomats can only talk to detainees over the phone.

After Kovrig and Spavor were charged with espionage last year, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau denounced the “political” nature of his case, saying his arrest was a “decision by the Chinese government and we deplore it.” “.

Trudeau has repeatedly refused to consider any trade between the two Canadians for Meng, whose arrest has seen relations fall between Ottawa and Beijing. Last month, the Canadian parliament passed a non-binding motion accusing China of committing genocide against their Muslim minorities in the western region of Xinjiang, further straining ties between the two countries.

In his statement Thursday, Garneau said Canada believes the detention of Kovrig and Spavor “is arbitrary and that it remains deeply concerned about the lack of transparency surrounding these proceedings.”

“Canadian officials are seeking continued consular access to Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig, in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and the China-Canada Consular Agreement, and have also requested to attend the proceedings,” he added. . “Canadian officials will continue to provide consular support to these men and their families during this unacceptable test.”

Both the administrations of former US President Donald Trump and current US President Joe Biden have pledged to do everything possible to help the two Canadians, with Vice President Kamala Harris telling Trudeau in a phone call in February, that Washington was in “strong solidarity with Canada over the issue of two Canadian citizens unjustly detained by China.”

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