A court in China has found Canadian businessman Michael Spavor guilty of spying, sentencing him to 11 years in prison, in a decision likely to further undermine already poor relations between China and Canada.
Spavor, who for years ran a travel and cultural exchange business between China and North Korea, “was convicted of espionage and illegally providing state secrets”, Dandong city’s Intermediate People’s Court said in a statement on Wednesday.
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“He was sentenced to 11 years in prison.”
The court said Spavor, whose closed-door trial in March lasted little more than two hours, would also be deported but did not say when, and confiscated some of his personal property.
Spavor is one of two Canadians who were detained in China in December 2018, shortly after Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, on an extradition request by the United States.
Michael Kovrig, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, also faces spying charges and was tried shortly after Spavor in March. He is still awaiting a verdict.
Canada has said the detentions are linked to Meng’s case, which China has denied.
“China’s conviction and sentencing of Michael Spavor is absolutely unacceptable and unjust,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a statement.
“The verdict for Mr. Spavor comes after more than two and a half years of arbitrary detention, a lack of transparency in the legal process, and a trial that did not satisfy even the minimum standards required by international law,” he said.
Canada’s Ambassador to China Dominic Barton, who visited Spavor at a detention centre in Dandong, told reporters the businessman had three messages he wanted to share with the outside world: “Thank you for all your support”, “I am in good spirits,” and “I want to get home.”
Spavor and Kovrig have been held virtually incommunicado since they were first detained two-and-a-half years ago. Limited consular visits were stopped because of the coronavirus and only resumed last October, and neither man has been able to see lawyers or their family. Meng, meanwhile, was granted bail and is living in one of her Vancouver mansions while her case goes through the courts.
“While we disagree with the charges, we realise that this is the next step in the process to bring Michael home and we will continue to support him through this challenging time,” the Spavor family said in a statement.
The verdict comes with Meng’s case due to conclude on August 20.
“The timing is undeniable,” said Al Jazeera’s Katrina Yu, who is in Beijing.
Observers say the likely verdicts and sentences for both Canadians will track Meng’s trial.
“If we see this as the beginning of a political bargaining process, the Chinese (are) likely to want to appear strong in the first instance,” Associate Professor Lynette Ong of the University of Toronto told AFP news agency ahead of the decision.
China’s courts are controlled by the Communist Party and have a near 100-percent conviction rate in criminal trials.
Spavor has 10 days to appeal the decision, but Yu says the process was “long, uncertain and unlikely to be successful”.
On Tuesday, a Chinese court rejected an appeal by Robert Schellenberg, a Canadian sentenced to death for drug smuggling.
Barton, the Canadian ambassador, condemned the ruling and called for clemency.