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US demands immediate release of Canadian businessman jailed by China

Published: Updated:

The United States condemned the jailing of Canadian businessman Michael Spavor by China on Wednesday and demanded he be released “immediately and unconditionally,” top diplomat Antony Blinken said.

“The practice of arbitrarily detaining individuals to exercise leverage over foreign governments is completely unacceptable,” the Secretary of State said in a statement.

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“People should never be used as bargaining chips.”

Spavor was sentenced to 11 years for spying by a Chinese court earlier Wednesday.

He and compatriot Michael Kovrig were detained in 2018 on what Ottawa has said are politically orchestrated charges after Meng Wanzhou, an executive with Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, was arrested in Canada on a US extradition warrant.

Blinken said the pair had not received “the minimal procedural protections” during their detention.

He said Washington was “deeply troubled by the lack of transparency surrounding these legal proceedings,” and echoed Canada’s call for full consular access to the two men.

Spavor and Kovrig -- a former diplomat -- were formally charged with spying in June last year, and their separate trials took place in March.

The pair have had almost no contact with the outside world since their detention.

While Beijing has insisted the detention of the two Canadians is lawful, it calls Meng’s case “a purely political incident.”

The Spavor verdict comes a day after a Chinese court upheld the death sentence of another Canadian citizen on a drug smuggling conviction.

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