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China to open 1st trial of Canadians held on spy charges

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS / 2017
                                Michael Spavor, director of Paektu Cultural Exchange, talks during a Skype interview in Yanji, China.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS / 2017

    Michael Spavor, director of Paektu Cultural Exchange, talks during a Skype interview in Yanji, China.

DANDONG, China >> China was expected to open the first trial Friday for one of two Canadians who have been held for more than two years in apparent retaliation for Canada’s arrest of a senior Chinese telecom executive.

Canada said its consular officials were not given permission to attend the proceedings despite several requests. They have been notified that a court hearing for Michael Spavor would be held Friday, and one for Michael Kovrig would follow on Monday.

China has not publicly confirmed the court dates, and calls to the court in Dandong, the northeastern city where Spavor was charged, went unanswered.

“The official notification received from Chinese authorities indicated that these trials are closed to both the public and the media,” Canada Global Affairs spokesperson Christelle Chartrand said.

Spavor and Kovrig were detained in December 2018, days after Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was arrested at the request of the U.S. at the airport in Vancouver, British Columbia. The U.S. is seeking her extradition to face fraud charges related to her company’s dealings with Iran.

The two Canadians have been held ever since, while Meng has been released on bail. They were charged in June 2020 with spying under China’s national security laws.

Spavor, an entrepreneur with North Korea-related business, was charged with spying for a foreign entity and illegally providing state secrets. Kovrig, an analyst and former diplomat, was charged with spying for state secrets and intelligence in collaboration with Spavor.

Prosecutors have not released details of the charges. The state-owned Global Times newspaper said Kovrig was accused of having used 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.

In Vancouver on Thursday, Meng’s lawyers told an extradition hearing Canadian officials abused their power when they conspired with the U.S. to arrest her. Defense lawyer Tony Paisana said Canadian Border Services Agency officers took Meng’s phones, obtained their passwords, then handed to them to Canadian police so the data could be shared with the FBI.

Paisana said Meng was never told during questioning that she faced an arrest warrant in the U.S. and would have immediately asked for a lawyer if so informed. British Columbia Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes suggested border officers would have questioned Meng more rigorously if their exam was actually a covert criminal investigation, as her lawyers said.

China has demanded Meng’s immediate and unconditional release, saying the U.S. engineered her detention as part of a drive to contain China’s growing rise. Canadian authorities say Kovrig and Spavor were arbitrarily arrested to put pressure on Ottawa and say they should be released without charge.

China has also restricted various Canadian exports, including canola oil seed, and handed death sentences to another four Canadians convicted of drug smuggling.

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