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Trudeau rebukes China over closed-door prosecution of Canadians

(Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, pictured on March 15, 2021, has attacked the charges against its citizens as “trumped-up”. Photo: AFP)

OTTAWA, (AFP):- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reacted angrily Friday to the closed-door trial of a Canadian man detained in China for more than two years on espionage charges, dismissing it as “completely unacceptable.”

Businessman Michael Spavor, whose hearing finished after less than three hours on Friday, is one of two Canadians detained, in apparent retaliation for Canada’s arrest on a US extradition warrant of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, and formally charged last June with spying.

“Let me be very clear: Their arbitrary detention is completely unacceptable, as is the lack of transparency around these court proceedings,” the Canadian leader told a news conference.

Spavor’s compatriot, former diplomat Michael Kovrig, is scheduled to go to trial on Monday.

Canada has attacked the charges against its citizens as “trumped-up”, and the three cases have sent relations between Ottawa and Beijing to their lowest point in decades, although China has denied any link between Meng’s arrest and the action taken against the Canadians.

Diplomats and media were barred from attending Spavor’s trial earlier in Dandong, where Canadian officials were joined by envoys from eight other nations including the United States, France and Australia outside the courthouse.

Canadian diplomats waved as a police van with tinted windows believed to be carrying Spavor drove out of the court.

The verdict remains unknown.

A court statement said that the “private hearing” had finished and that the court would “select a date to announce the verdict.”

Spavor’s family have called for his unconditional release, saying that he was innocent of the accusations and had done much as a businessman to “build constructive ties” between Canada, China and North Korea.

– ‘Coercive diplomacy’ –

Trudeau said his government, along with allies he thanked publicly for showing “global solidarity in this case,” would continue to press China to immediately release the “Two Michaels,” as they have become known.

“China needs to understand that it is not just about two Canadians,” he said.

“It is about respect for the rule of law and relationships with a broad range of Western countries that is at play with the arbitrary detention and the coercive diplomacy they have engaged in.”

These nations, he said, are “concerned about this not just because of these two Canadians, but because of the potential implications for their own citizens.”

The timing of the Spavor and Kovrig trials comes as high-level talks got underway between the US and China in Anchorage, Alaska, which observers said was no coincidence.

Jim Nickel, the charge d’affaires of the Canadian embassy in Beijing, told reporters outside the Dandong courtroom in northeastern China that Canada — with US support — hopes to obtain Spavor and Kovrig’s “immediate release.”

In Ottawa, Trudeau commented that “the Americans take this case seriously,” adding that the plight of the two Canadians was sure to be raised by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in his first face-to-face meeting with his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi.

The trials of the two Canadians, who were detained in December 2018, also came alongside Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou’s extradition case heading into its final weeks.

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

Trudeau has accused Beijing of detaining Spavor and Kovrig to put pressure on Canada to release Meng, while affirming the independence of Canada’s judicial system in dealing with the US extradition request.

The two Canadian men have had almost no contact with the outside world since their detention.

Virtual consular visits only resumed in October after a nine-month hiatus that authorities said was due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Meng, meanwhile, remains under house arrest at her Vancouver mansion. Her hearing is expected to wrap up mid-May, barring appeals.

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