Kovrig, Spavor ‘strong’ after two-year China detention: Canada

Two Canadians were detained shortly after Canada arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou and accused of spying.

The Canadian flag above the country's embassy in China
Ties between Canada and China have deteriorated with the detention two years ago of two Canadians, days after Canada arrested a top Huawei executive on a US extradition warrant [File: Thomas Peter/Reuters]

Two Canadian men who have been detained by China for more than two years, in what Canada sees as retribution for its arrest of a top Huawei executive on US extradition charges, are in good mental and physical condition, Ottawa’s ambassador to Beijing said on Tuesday.

China detained former diplomat and Crisis Group Senior Analyst for Northeast Asia Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor on December 10, 2018, accusing them of harming national security.

The arrests came shortly after Canadian police picked up Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou.

Both the Canadians have been held without access to lawyers or family, and for months the authorities prevented even consular officials from visiting them, citing the risk of the coronavirus. In June, China announced it was prosecuting the two men for spying.

“They are both very healthy, physically and mentally,” Ambassador Dominic Barton told a special parliamentary committee on Canada’s ties with China.

“I am deeply inspired by their resilience and their mindset – it’s incredible given what they’re going through … they are very, very strong and it’s remarkable,” he added.

Canada has made the return of the two men a priority, and has dismissed Beijing’s insistence that their detentions are unconnected with Meng’s arrest.

Barton said he was allowed virtual visits in October after months of pressure and also spoke to the two men individually last month. Meng is currently on bail while her case goes through the courts and living in her Vancouver mansion.

In a statement to mark two years since Kovrig was arrested, his employer, Crisis Group described his detention as “unjust” and “a case of politically motivated hostage diplomacy that is doing profound damage to China’s worldwide reputation. His sole offence was to be a Canadian citizen who was at the wrong place at the wrong time”.

The Reuters news agency reported last week that US prosecutors were discussing a plea deal with Meng’s lawyers that would resolve the criminal charges against her and allow her to return to China.

The Crisis Group said it was time that China did the “right thing”.

“China has every right to aspire to a stronger role in world affairs,” said Frank Giustra, co-chairman of Crisis Group’s board. “It has no right to unjustly detain people. Its legitimate aspirations inevitably will be undermined by its arbitrary practice, sending a chilling effect to all those – members of the business community, diplomats, journalists, academics and researchers – who wish to travel to China.”

To mark two years since Kovrig and Spavor were detained, a campaign has also been launched to rally support in Canada and elsewhere for the men’s release. The #freechinashostages initiative aims to deluge Chinese embassies and consulates with cards and messages of support for the two men.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters