Two Canadians imprisoned in China for more than two years on spying allegations will have court hearings later this week, Canada’s minister of foreign affairs said on Wednesday.
“Our embassy in Beijing has been notified that court hearings for Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig are scheduled to take place on March 19 and March 22, respectively,” Marc Garneau said in a statement.
Kovrig, a former diplomat, and Spavor, a businessman, were detained in December 2018 after Canadian authorities arrested top Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on an extradition request by the United States.
Chinese authorities have said the pair are being held on suspicion of endangering national security and have rejected accusations their detention is retaliation for the case against Meng, who is facing fraud charges in the US.
Relations between Ottawa and Beijing have deteriorated since the arrests, leading Canadian officials to increasingly criticise China for its human rights record and spearhead a global push to end arbitrary detention around the world.
“The arbitrary detention of Mr Kovrig and Mr Spavor is a top priority for the Government of Canada and we continue to work tirelessly to secure their immediate release,” Garneau said.
“We believe these detentions are arbitrary, and remain deeply troubled by the lack of transparency surrounding these proceedings,” he said.
Canadian foreign ministry officials led by Ambassador Dominic Barton were given on-site virtual consular access to Kovrig on January 21.
“Canadian officials will continue to provide consular support to these men and their families during this unacceptable ordeal,” Garneau said.
Beijing says the detention of Meng, who is under house arrest at a luxury mansion she owns in Vancouver is politically motivated and has demanded her immediate and unconditional release.
The US has accused Meng, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies, of using a Hong Kong shell company to deceive banks and do business with Iran in violation of US sanctions.
In an extradition hearing before the Supreme Court of British Columbia on Wednesday, Meng’s lawyers argued police violated her rights during her arrest and demanded her release.