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Michael Kovrig to go on trial in China on spying charges

Last Updated Mar 21, 2021 at 9:39 pm PDT

Michael Kovrig (Courtesy the International Crisis Group)
Summary

The government has provided almost no information about the accusations against the 'two Michaels'

Beijing is seen as using Kovrig and Spavor as leverage to obtain the release of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou

BEIJING — A Beijing court is set to put Michael Kovrig, who has been held for more than two years on spying charges, on trial Monday.

The trial of the analyst and former diplomat in Beijing follows an initial hearing in the case of entrepreneur Michael Spavor in the northeastern city of Dandong on Friday. The detention of the ‘two Michaels’ has been condemned as arbitrary, and is widely understood as retaliation for the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver in 2018.

Canadian diplomats were refused access to Spavor’s trial and have been told both hearings would be held behind closed doors. Diplomats and journalists have showed up nonetheless to seek information and show support.

The government has provided almost no information about the accusations against the two, but a newspaper run by the ruling Communist Party alleges they collaborated in stealing state secrets and sending them abroad. No verdict has been announced in Spavor’s case and it wasn’t clear how long either trial would last and when their outcomes would become known.

However, such cases are almost always predetermined in China, and Beijing is seen as using Kovrig and Spavor as leverage to obtain the release of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who was arrested at the request of the U.S. at the airport in Vancouver, British Columbia, in December 2019. The two Canadians were detained in China just days later.

Meng is sought by the U.S. on fraud charges related to the telecom giant’s dealings with Iran, which is under American financial sanctions.

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

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau blasted Beijing for holding the trial “in secret” without access for consular officials.

“Their arbitrary detention is completely unacceptable, as is the lack of transparency around these court proceedings,” Trudeau said in Ottawa.

“China needs to understand that it is not just about two Canadians. It’s about respect for the rule of law and relationships with a broad range of Western countries that are at play with the arbitrary detention and the coercive diplomacy that they’ve engaged in.”

Meng’s case has deeply angered China’s government, which has promoted Huawei as a global leader in mobile communications technology. Beijing has demanded her immediate and unconditional release and has also restricted various Canadian exports, including canola oil seed, and handed death sentences to another four Canadians convicted of drug smuggling.