China will soon hold the first trial for the two Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor – two years after they were detained, according to mainland media reports.
Citing an unnamed source, Global Times, an affiliate of Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily, said the court would push the trial forward “soon”, after hearings were delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Kovrig was accused of having used an ordinary passport and business visa to enter China to steal sensitive information and intelligence through contacts in China since 2017, while Spavor was accused of being a key source of intelligence for Kovrig,” the report said.
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“They are suspected of crimes endangering China’s national security, and have already been [charged].”
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian did not confirm whether a trial would start soon, but added that the cases were handled in accordance with law.
The Canadian government said on Friday that it remained deeply concerned by the arbitrary detention by Chinese authorities of the two men and was “not aware of any set timeline for the trials”.
Global Affairs Canada, the Canadian department in charge of the country’s diplomatic relations, said it had not been notified of court hearings for Kovrig or Spavor.
“Consular officials continue to provide consular services to Mr Kovrig and Mr Spavor as well as their families,” it said.
The report comes ahead of next week’s meeting between China’s foreign policy chief Yang Jiechi and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan.
China described the meeting as a “high-level strategic dialogue” – signalling Beijing’s intention to make it a dialogue mechanism instead of one-off exchange, but the US has rejected the classification.
The two Canadians were detained in December 2018, shortly after Huawei Technologies chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada at Washington’s request. They were prosecuted for suspected crimes undermining China’s national security in June 2020.
Beijing has rejected accusations that the Canadians’ arrest was linked to Meng’s case.
Meng faces charges of misleading HSBC Holdings about the Chinese tech giant’s business dealings with Iran, which is under US sanctions.
Canada and the United States have repeatedly demanded that China release Kovrig and Spavor, with Ottawa calling their arrest an act of “hostage diplomacy”.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on March 3 that the charges against the two Canadians were trumped-up.
“It is obvious that the two Michaels were arrested on trumped-up national security charges days after we fulfilled our extradition treaty responsibilities toward our ally, the United States,” he said.
US President Joe Biden said last month that US and Canada would work together to secure the release of the two Canadians.
“Human beings are not bartering chips,” he said last month. “We’re going to work together until we get their safe return. Canada and the United States will stand together against abuse of universal rights and democratic freedom.”
Additional reporting by Catherine Wong and Rachel Zhang
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