Spy trial concluded for second Canadian detained in China, no verdict

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·4 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The trial of Michael Kovrig, one of the two Canadians detained in China on spying charges, ended Monday with no verdict, as relations between Ottawa and Beijing sour.

The hearing for the former diplomat came days after the closed-door trial of another Canadian man, with both detained for over two years in apparent retaliation for Canada's arrest on a US extradition warrant of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

Kovrig, a former diplomat, was detained in 2018 and formally charged last June with spying at the same time as his compatriot, businessman Michael Spavor.

Ottawa is "deeply troubled" by the "unacceptable ordeal" faced by the pair, Canadian Foreign Minister Marc Garneau said in a statement calling for "an immediate end to their arbitrary detention".

"The eyes of the world are on these cases and proceedings," he added.

On Monday, police cordoned off an area outside the Beijing court as Canadian diplomats were denied entry and turned away.

Jim Nickel, the charge d'affaires of the Canadian embassy in Beijing, told reporters that he was "very troubled by the lack of access and lack of transparency in the legal process".

The trial lasted one day before the court issued a statement saying that the proceeding had concluded and it would "choose a date to announce the verdict in accordance with the law".

Kovrig and his lawyer were present in the court, the statement said, for the case of "spying on state secrets and intelligence for foreign powers".

- Western democracies show solidarity -

Representatives of 26 countries -- including Australia, Britain, France, Germany and the United States -- had gathered outside the building on Monday, Nickel said, and were "lending their voice" for Kovrig's immediate release.

Garneau thanked them for their show of solidarity and "echoing Canada's message that these detentions are unacceptable".

A court official told reporters no entry was allowed because the trial is a national security case.

Canadian diplomats were also barred from attending Spavor's trial in the Chinese city of Dandong on Friday, which lasted less than three hours and ended without a verdict.

Following that closed-door hearing, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the two mens' detention "completely unacceptable, as is the lack of transparency around these court proceedings".

China's foreign ministry on Monday defended diplomats being blocked from entering the court, and criticised those gathering outside as "very unreasonable".

"Be it a few or dozens of diplomats trying to gather and exert pressure, it is an interference in China's judicial sovereignty... and not something that a diplomat should do," said foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.

- 'A political case' -

The court dates for the two Canadians come as an extradition hearing for Meng enters its final months, and alongside fiery high-level talks between the US and China in Alaska.

Meng, whose father is Huawei founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei, has been fighting extradition to the United States on charges that she and the company violated US sanctions on Iran and other laws.

While Kovrig's trial was still ongoing late Monday afternoon, Canada's former ambassador to China, Guy Saint-Jacques, told AFP he expected proceedings will be short.

"China does not even try to make this look like a real trial, as evidence is not shared with the defence and the judge does not even take the time to review it," he said ahead of the hearing.

"It just confirms that the process is pre-ordained by the Communist Party and this is a political case."

China's judicial system convicts most people who stand trial and the two Canadians face up to life in prison if found guilty of espionage and providing state secrets.

Kovrig and Spavor have had almost no contact with the outside world since their detention, and virtual consular visits only resumed in October after a nine-month hiatus that authorities said was due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Beijing has insisted the detention of the two men is lawful, while calling Meng's case "a purely political incident".

"The message to the USA is: if you want to help the Canadians, make sure that Meng is returned quickly to China," said Saint-Jacques.

tjx-rox/rbu/amc/am/je

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting