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Two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor are marking their 500th day of being imprisoned in China. Their contact with family and friends has been cut off since the two were detained back in December, 2018.
Kovrig worked at the International Crisis Group before being detained, according to The Globe and Mail. His former colleagues have very little information about his current situation due to China’s coronavirus measures. In mid-January, the country closed its prisons to visitors.
Kovrig is a former diplomat, and Spavor an entrepreneur. They were detained for what most see as retaliation after Canada’s arrested Meng Wanzhou, a Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. executive. The arrest was carried out because of a US extradition order.
Chinese prisons were reportedly hit hard by coronavirus though Ottawa has not specified whether Spavor or Kovrig have been affected by the outbreak. Diplomats from Canada have not been able to see the men for over three months.
“We have been a little bit in the dark since January, really, because no [Canadian] consular officials have seen him directly,” Praveen Madhiraju, general counsel for ICG noted on Wednesday.
“It’s 500 days too long. They should not have been arrested in the first place and there is no legitimate case against them.”
Chinese officials allowed Kovrig to make a brief phone call to his sick father last month, which is the only information ICG has on his recent condition.
“I’m sure you can understand what he can communicate over the phone… in a short amount of time, doesn’t offer a great window into how he is doing," Mr. Madhiraju said.
“Under the circumstances, he is doing remarkably well. Michael is stronger and more thoughtful and has handled this detention better than anybody I can imagine. … He has been very focused from the early days that he needed to do everything he could to keep his mind actively engaged.”
The two Canadians were taken into Chinese custody just days after the arrest of Wanzhou in Vancouver.
Former Canadian ambassador to China, David Mulroney referred to the detainment as a callous act.
“It’s a reminder to all of us what an almost unimaginably cruel act this has been for the men and their families. Not only are their conditions terrible but they are cut off from any meaningful connection and at this time of pandemic they seem to be even more remote,” Mulroney said. “It’s a hostage-taking and the ransom demand is Meng Wanzhou.”
Wanzhou currently lives in a $13 million home in Vancouver and is out on bail.
Prosecutors in China still have not filed former charges against Spavor and Kovrig.
“The Chinese want us to confer a certain dignity on their process, but it’s very nakedly a quid pro quo,” Mulroney said. “It simply follows every step and development in the Canadian legal process for Ms. Meng”
“Madame Meng is being treated with great respect. She lives in comfort in Vancouver while our poor Canadians are stuck in a Chinese prison with very little access to fresh air and good food and no access to family and friends.”
Spavor is currently being held in Dandong while Kovrig is in Beijing. Kovrig has only shared a cell with a few others while Spavor has had to stay in a crowded cell.
Canadian officials last visited Spavor on January 13 and Kovrig on January 14. Canadian authorities were previously given monthly consular access to them since their 2018 detainment, but that has been discontinued.
People held in Chinese jails are allowed visits but since the two men are in detention facilities so they cannot see visitors.
The men were allowed brief meetings with lawyers after a year of monthly consul visits until the virus outbreak.
“The Canadian government needs to protest in the strongest terms and find a way to ensure that consular visits can resume, especially now, during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Jack Harris an NDP foreign affairs critic said.
In a statement François-Philippe Champagne, the Foreign Affairs Minister said the men, “are always in my thoughts and I am in close touch with their families.”
“In the context of COVID-19, we have proposed and are exploring creative options to ensure regular consular access to Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor, and to other Canadians detained in China, in accordance with the safety protocols of the relevant Chinese authorities,” he said.
“My officials and I will continue to do all we can to secure the release of these two Canadians and to reunite them with their families and loved ones," he said. "We will stand up for them at every step of the way and continue to rally support for their cases—including from partners around the world.”
Former Canadian ambassador to China, Guy Saint-Jaques believes that Kovrig and Spavor will remain in China as long as Wanzhou is held in Canada.
Wanzhou and other Huawei executives were accused of lying to US banks. Wanzhou’s case is adjourned until the 27 of April.