China says two Canadians held for two years on 'spying' accusations have been indicted and tried

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People hold signs calling for China to release Canadian detainees Spavor and Kovrig - REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson/File Photo
People hold signs calling for China to release Canadian detainees Spavor and Kovrig - REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson/File Photo

China's Foreign Ministry said Thursday that two Canadians held for two years in a case linked to a Huawei executive have been indicted and put on trial, but gave no details.

Former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor have been confined since December 10, 2018, just days after Canada detained Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who is also the daughter of the founder of the Chinese global communications equipment giant.

China has said Mr Kovrig and Mr Spavor were indicted June 19 by the Beijing prosecutor's office on "suspicion of spying for state secrets and intelligence."

Neither China or Canada has released specifics about their cases.

At a daily briefing Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said the two had been "arrested, indicted and tried," in what appeared to be the first public mention that they had been brought to court.

She reiterated that their cases and Ms Meng's were "different in nature," with Ms Meng's being a "purely political incident." Despite that, China has consistently linked the fate of the two Canadians to its demands that Ms Meng be released immediately.

Canadian foreign minister Francois-Philippe Champagne issued a statement Wednesday marking their two years of captivity, saying; "These two Canadians are an absolute priority for our government, and we will continue to work tirelessly to secure their immediate release and to stand up for them as a government and as Canadians."

"I am struck by the integrity and strength of character the two have shown as they endure immense hardship that would shake anyone's faith in humanity," Mr Champagne said.

The US is seeking Ms Meng's extradition from Canada on fraud charges. Her arrest severely damaged relations between Canada and China, which has also sentenced two other Canadians to death and suspended imports of canola from Canada.

Ms Meng, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies, is living in a luxury Vancouver home while her extradition case continues in a British Columbia court. The US accuses Huawei of using a Hong Kong shell company to deceive banks and do business with Iran in violation of US sanctions.

It's not publicly known where Mr Kovrig and Mr Spavor are being held or under what conditions, although Canada's ambassador to China testified to a House of Commons committee this week that they were "robust."

Canadian diplomats had been denied all access to the two men from January to October because of coronavirus precautions cited by the Chinese side. On-site visits were banned and not even virtual visits were permitted.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has described China's approach as coercive diplomacy, spoke last month with US president-elect Joe Biden about the case of the two men and said he expects Mr Biden to be a good partner in persuading Beijing to release them.

Canada's Foreign Ministry did not immediately reply to an emailed request for comment on Ms Hua's remarks.

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