Two Canadians held in China officially accused of spying

The Beijing Municipal Prosecutor’s Office filed a prosecution against Kovrig on Friday for “guarding state secrets and intelligence.” The People’s Dandong Procuratorate has also filed a public action against Spavor to “protect state secrets and provide them illegally.”

Both men were detained on charges in the US in the weeks following the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of the Chinese technology company Huawei, in late 2018.

US prosecutors are requesting that Meng be prosecuted for several charges, including bank fraud and violations of the US sanctions against Iran.

Beyond mainland China, new charges will bypass the local legislature, raising fears in Hong Kong about an upcoming national security law, which will be imposed by Beijing in the city.

This week, G7 countries common statement the proposed law “can restrict and threaten the fundamental rights and freedoms of the entire population (in Hong Kong) protected by the rule of law and the existence of an independent justice system”.

‘Arbitrary detention

Kovrig was a former diplomat in Beijing and worked in the International Crisis Group (ICG). Spavor is the founder of the Paektu Cultural Exchange, which helps streamline North Korea trips. He helped former NBA player Dennis Rodman travel to Pyongyang to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The Canadian government has repeatedly described their detentions as “arbitrary”. The contacts of family members and two men explained that they were held in bad conditions and refused contact from the outside.

Guy Saint-Jacques, who served as Canadian ambassador to China between 2012 and 2016, told CNN last year that Spavor was held at a detention facility in the north-east Dandong province and shared 18 cells where lights were kept 24 hours a day and only 15 minutes outside. Kovrig is being held in Beijing, said Saint-Jacques, and none of them have had access to a lawyer or family members since they were first detained.

“In both cases, they receive consular visits once a month for exactly 30 minutes, where someone is watching the whole discussion.” “These mainly serve to give them news about their family and to give them books and other reading materials. They are very difficult for them, they wait, and they have no idea when and how to release them.”

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Someone who knew the situation told CNN that diplomatic efforts in Canada have so far focused on trying to solve what is a complex political entanglement.

There is a bigger geopolitical game between China and the US, where Canada is caught a little bit in the middle, added people, and two Canadians paying the price.

Saint-Jacques agreed by saying that China’s problem is about the US: “But of course they do not dare to arrest former (American) diplomats or diplomats on leave.”

He said China was surprised by the widespread international condemnation of his arrest of the two Canadians, but beyond getting support from the allies, Ottawa had little to do. “It is very difficult to find something because the Chinese do not really want anything,” he said.

Spavor’s family “was caught as an unaware and reluctant pawn in a clash between the two superpowers, and swept by geopolitical currents and powers beyond control,” he said last year on the anniversary of his detention.

CNN’s Shanshan Wang and Steve George contributed to the reporting.

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