China’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday that two Canadians who have been held for two years in a case linked to a Huawei executive have been indicted and put on trial, but gave no details.
Former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor have been confined since December 10, 2018, just days after Canada detained Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who is also the daughter of the founder of the Chinese telecommunications equipment giant.
Asked about the Canadians at a daily briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said the two had been “arrested, indicted and tried,” in what appeared to be the first public mention that they had been brought to court.
Chinese prosecutors had announced earlier this year that Kovrig had been charged on suspicion of spying for state secrets and intelligence, and Spavor on suspicion of spying for a foreign entity and illegally providing state secrets.
Neither China nor Canada has released specifics about their cases.
Canada detained Meng at the request of the US, which is seeking her extradition to face fraud charges.
Hua said her case and those of the Canadians were “different in nature,” with Meng’s being a “purely political incident.” Despite that, China has consistently linked the fate of the two Canadians to its demands that Meng be released immediately.
Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne issued a statement Wednesday marking their two years of captivity, saying: “These two Canadians are an absolute priority for our government, and we will continue to work tirelessly to secure their immediate release and to stand up for them as a government and as Canadians.”
“I am struck by the integrity and strength of character the two have shown as they endure immense hardship that would shake anyone’s faith in humanity,” Champagne said.
Meng’s arrest severely damaged relations between Canada and China, which has sentenced two other Canadians to death and suspended imports of canola from Canada.
Meng, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies, is living in a luxury Vancouver home while her extradition case continues in a British Columbia court. The US accuses Huawei of using a Hong Kong shell company to deceive banks and do business with Iran in violation of US sanctions.
It’s not publicly known where Kovrig and Spavor are being held or under what conditions, although Canada’s ambassador to China testified to a House of Commons committee this week that they were “robust.”
Canadian diplomats had been denied all access to the two men from January to October because of coronavirus precautions cited by the Chinese side. On-site visits were banned and not even virtual visits were permitted.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has described China’s approach as coercive diplomacy, spoke last month with US President-elect Joe Biden about the case of the two men and said he expects Biden to be a good partner in persuading Beijing to release them.
Canada’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately reply to an emailed request for comment on Hua’s remarks.