Secret Trials in China for Spavor and Kovrig Are ‘Disappointing,’ Trudeau Says

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the trials being held “without transparency” for the two Canadians who have been detained in China for two years are “disappointing.”

Michael Spavor was tried in court Friday but no verdict was announced. Michael Kovrig’s trial is scheduled for Monday.

“It is disappointing that the trial that Michael Spavor went through and possibly the trial that Michael Kovrig will go through on Monday are happening in secret without transparency, without access by Canadian consular officials,” Trudeau said during a press briefing on Friday.

Trudeau said his government has been working with allies to pressure Beijing for their release and will continue to do so.

“China needs to understand that it is not just about two Canadians, it is about the respect for the rule of law and relationships with a broad range of Western countries that is at play, with the arbitrary detention and coercive diplomacy they have been engaged in,” he said.

In a statement posted on its website, the Intermediate People’s Court of Dandong in Liaoning Province said a closed-door hearing was held for  Spavor on March 19 on charges of “spying and illegally sending state secrets abroad.”

The statement said Spavor’s defence lawyers were present for the proceedings and the court would pronounce a sentence at a date “determined in accordance with law.”

Canadian consular officials said they were denied permission to attend the hearing.

Jim Nickel, the deputy head of mission for the Canadian embassy in Beijing, said Spavor’s lawyer had told him that the hearing ended at noon Friday after two hours.

Nickel declined to give further details, citing provisions from the Privacy Act to protect Spavor.

Nickel said Canada still holds out hope that the “two Michaels” can be released with the support from the United States, as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan are holding their first face-to-face meetings with China’s top diplomats in Alaska this week.

“We’re hopeful that, in some measure, this trial may too lead to their immediate release,” Nickel said.

Kovrig and Spavor have been in custody since December 2018, shortly after Canada arrested Huawei telecom’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou at the behest of the U.S. Department of Justice.

U.S. officials want Meng’s extradited on charges of fraud and conspiracy. Meng and her company allegedly lied to multiple financial institutions in an effort to evade American sanctions against Iran.

China’s Foreign Ministry has denied any wrongdoing in their handling of Kovrig and Spavor’s case, attributing the timing of their trials to little more than coincidence.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Marc Garneau released a statement on Thursday expressing concern about China’s treatment of the two Canadians.

“We believe these detentions are arbitrary, and remain deeply troubled by the lack of transparency surrounding these proceedings,” Garneau wrote.

On Friday morning, the spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa called Garneau’s statement “erroneous” and “fact-distorting,” and insisted that the two Canadians were “arrested and prosecuted in accordance with law for suspected crimes undermining China’s national security.”

Critics and allies alike have described the detention of Kovrig and Spavor as part of the retribution against Canada for Meng’s arrest. China has also sanctioned imports of Canadian agricultural products, such as canola seeds.

With files from The Canadian Press.

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