China sentences Canadian Michael Spavor to 11 years in prison

A Chinese court sentenced a Canadian businessman, Michael Spavor, to 11 years in prison after convicting him of espionage on Wednesday, exacerbating a split with Canada, which condemned the case as political hostage-taking .

Mr Spavor has the right to appeal the judgment, but Chinese courts rarely overturn criminal judgments, and his fate may rest on agreements between Beijing, Ottawa and Washington at a time when Beijing’s relations with Western powers are particularly strong. tense.

In a brief online statement, the court in Dandong, a northeastern Chinese city next to North Korea where Mr. Spavor has often done business, also said he would be deported, but didn’t gave no details at the time. The court said it found Mr Spavor guilty of obtaining state secrets and disclosing them to a foreign recipient, but gave no details.

The conviction suggests that a Beijing court is likely to soon announce a similar guilty verdict in a parallel espionage case against another Canadian, Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat arrested around the same time as Mr Spavor, end of 2018. Detentions took place less. more than two weeks after Vancouver police arrested Chinese telecommunications executive Meng Wanzhou at the behest of US prosecutors.

Ms Meng remains on bail in Vancouver and is fighting extradition to the United States, where she faces fraud charges related to her role as chief financial officer of Chinese tech giant Huawei. Mr Spavor’s conviction came amid argument before the BC Supreme Court on whether Ms Meng can be extradited.

The detentions of the two Michaels and Ms. Meng have opened a spiteful rift between Beijing and Ottawa and added to growing tensions between China and Canada’s democratic allies.

The sentence will fuel anger in Canada, where public attitudes towards the Chinese government have hardened over the lawsuits against the two Canadians. In particular, many critics have contrasted the harsh conditions Canadians faced with Ms. Meng’s luxurious lifestyle.

Canadians have been held in secret prisons for more than two years, cut off from their families and with limited legal and consular access. The two were tried in short and opaque trials in March. Meanwhile, Ms Meng was released on C $ 10 million bail at a seven-bedroom mansion in a rarefied area of ​​Vancouver, where she received private painting lessons and massages. She wears a GPS tracker on her left ankle and was able to get around Vancouver.

Chinese officials accused Canada of setting up Ms. Meng and denied that Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig were being held hostage to pressure Ottawa to let Ms. Meng return to China.

“This is nothing less than a political incident in which Canada has played a very shameful role as an accomplice,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in March of the Ms. Meng’s case. “We urge the Canadian side to immediately release Ms. Meng Wanzhou.”

But Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig were arrested on “trumped up charges” as “an attempt to try to pressure us to release the executive,” and he defended Ms. Meng’s position. detention as a simple application of the rule of law and of Canada’s extradition treaty obligations with the United States.

The two Canadians were tried in March and diplomats from Canada and other supportive governments were excluded from the hearings.

Another Canadian caught in the tension, Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, was first sentenced to 15 years in prison for trafficking in methamphetamine. But in 2019, he was sentenced to death in a one-day retrial, a month after Canadian authorities arrested Ms. Meng. On Tuesday, a Chinese court upheld the death sentence.

In 2018, Hu Xijin, editor of the Communist Party-run Global Times newspaper, warned that if Ms. Meng was extradited to the United States, “China’s revenge will be much worse than the detention of a Canadian.” .

Ties between Canada and China have deteriorated since the 2018 detentions, reflecting Canadian anger over China’s mismanagement of the coronavirus epidemic and its sweeping crackdown on pro-democracy forces in Hong Kong, a former British colony which was the source of many migrants leaving for Canada.

The Chinese government’s anger against Canada has grown after Mr. Trudeau’s government imposed sanctions on Xinjiang, the region in northwest China where majority Muslim minorities face massive detentions.

The two Canadians were both expatriates using their expertise in Asia when they were taken away by Chinese state security agents. Mr. Kovrig had worked since 2017 as a senior advisor for the International Crisis Group, a non-profit organization that provides analysis and advice on conflicts around the world, including China and North Korea.

Mr. Spavor, who is fluent in Korean, including the distinctive North dialect, has promoted cultural tours and business contacts with North Korea. He earned a visiting fame for helping organize the 2013 and 2014 visits to North Korea of ​​Dennis Rodman, the flamboyant former basketball star.

Mr Kovrig was kept so isolated in a detention center that he only learned of the details of the coronavirus pandemic in October, when Canadian diplomats briefed him on a virtual visit, his said. wife, Vina Nadjibulla.

The conviction announcement did not disclose details of the charges against Mr. Kovrig or Mr. Spavor. A report released in 2019 by a press service for the Communist Party of China Law and Order Committee said Mr. Spavor had been a source for Mr. Kovrig, who was a leading expert on North Korea. , the South China Sea and other hot spot regions that involve China. The families of the two men vigorously maintained that they were innocent.

Any hope for the early release of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor may rest on negotiations between Beijing and Washington. Western governments – including Australia, Britain, France and Germany – have expressed anger at China’s treatment of the two Canadians. But the voice that matters most is President Biden, who has said he will seek their release.

“Human beings don’t trade chips,” Biden said in February, after talks with Trudeau. “We will work together until we get them back safe and sound.”

But China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, seems unlikely to offer uncompromising concessions to Canadians and, ultimately, Ms. Meng’s release. The fraud charges against her relate to Huawei’s dealings with Iran, which officials in Washington say have tried to evade US sanctions.

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