Canadian’s Spying Trial in China Ends After Just Two Hours

The trial of a Canadian man detained in China since late 2018 on espionage charges has ended after about two hours, a lawyer said, one day after relatives pleaded for his release.

No verdict in Michael Spavor’s case was announced, James Zimmerman, of the law firm Perkins Coie, said Friday via a social messaging app. Spavor’s Chinese defense counsel was present for the trial, the lawyer for his family said.

Canada’s request to attend the hearing was denied by Chinese officials, the Canadian embassy said in an email. The hearing was held in private because it involved state secrets, the court in Dandong, in the northeastern province of Liaoning, said in a statement. A verdict will be announced later, the court said, without providing a date.

Spavor and Michael Kovrig were detained in late 2018 on allegations of violating Chinese national security and then charged in June last year. Spavor was accused by China of stealing and illegally providing state secrets to other countries. Kovrig, an analyst for International Crisis Group, was charged with spying on state secrets. People convicted of serious violations of the section of law cited by Chinese authorities face 10 years to life in prison.

Canadian’s Spying Trial in China Ends After Just Two Hours

The men were taken into custody after Canada detained Huawei Technologies Co. executive Meng Wanzhou in response to a U.S. extradition request. Kovrig will attend his first hearing on Monday. Canadian Foreign Minister Marc Garneau called the detentions “arbitrary” and said Canada is “deeply troubled by the lack of transparency surrounding these proceedings.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau repeated that criticism Friday, calling the situation “completely unacceptable.”

China’s embassy in Ottawa bristled at those comments. “This is just fact-distorting,” an unnamed spokesperson said in a statement posted to the embassy website. “On the one hand, the Canadian side claims that it upholds the rule of law, but on the other hand, it makes irresponsible remarks with regards to China’s handling relevant cases in accordance with law. How hypocritical and arrogant.”

Meng is back in a British Columbia courtroom this week contesting her extradition in an Iran sanctions case. China has often linked the cases of the two men to her detention. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters last year that halting the extradition “could open up space for resolution to the situation of the two Canadians.” Zhao said during a regular news briefing Friday in Beijing he had no new information about matter.

The Spavor family said in a statement Thursday night that he is “an ordinary Canadian businessman” who “would never have done anything to offend the interests of China or the Chinese people.” They called on Chinese officials to release both Spavor and Kovrig.

The family’s statement added that Spavor “has had very limited access and interaction with his retained Chinese defense counsel,” and that the vague charges against him have not been made public. It quoted the Beijing-based Zimmerman as saying the authorities’ “failure to allow for effective legal representation is a violation of China’s international obligations” and meant the local defense team couldn’t adequately prepare for a trial.

The court appearances of the two Canadians come as the U.S. and China hold their first high-level talks since President Joe Biden took office in January. Biden called for their release after a meeting with Trudeau last month, saying that “human beings are not bartering chips.”

Katherine Brucker, the acting charge d’affaires at the American embassy in Ottawa, said Friday the U.S. is “deeply alarmed” China has sent Spavor and Kovrig’s cases to trial. “We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Canada in calling for their immediate release and continue to condemn the lack of minimum procedural protections during their two-year arbitrary detention,” she said in an emailed statement.

China’s envoy in the Canadian capital also weighed in, calling for “win-win cooperation between our countries.” In an opinion piece for the Globe and Mail newspaper, Ambassador Cong Peiwu also criticized Canadian leaders for speaking out on China’s treatment of its Uyghur Muslim minority -- comments he said “blatantly interfered in China’s internal affairs and further poisoned the atmosphere of relations.”

Perkins Coie, which has its headquarters in Seattle, also provides legal services to Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News.

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