BEIJING, March 22 (Reuters) – The second of two Canadians detained in China for more than two years, Michael Kovrig, was due to face trial on Monday for alleged espionage, days after the United States raised its concerns over the cases during tense U.S.-China talks in Alaska.
China arrested Kovrig, a former diplomat, and fellow Canadian Michael Spavor in December 2018, soon after Canadian police detained Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese tech company Huawei Technologies, on a U.S. warrant.
Beijing insists the detentions are not linked to the arrest of Meng, who remains under house arrest in Vancouver as she fights extradition to the United States.
On Friday, Spavor, a businessman, underwent trial behind closed doors in a court in the northeastern city of Dandong, which said it will set a date later for a verdict.
Canadian and other diplomats were not allowed to attend Spavor’s trial on what China said were national security grounds, a lack of transparency that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called “completely unacceptable.”
Observers have said the likely convictions of the two men could ultimately facilitate a diplomatic agreement whereby they are released and sent back to Canada.
Chinese courts have a conviction rate of over 99%.
“Michael and Michael Spavor are innocent Canadians caught up in a bigger geopolitical dispute,” Kovrig’s wife, Vina Nadjibulla, told Reuters.
“Their detention is profoundly unjust and our focus must remain on securing their freedom,” she said.
Spavor’s trial took place as the United States and China held high-level talks in Alaska that proved to be rancorous. The United States raised the issue during the talks, a senior Biden administration official said, including its concerns that diplomats were barred from the courtroom in Spavor’s trial.
Reporting by Tony Munroe in Beijing and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Giles Elgood
Canadian Michael Kovrig, accused by China of spying, faces trial – Reuters