Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have now spent 557 days in incarceration and interrogation facilities and have now been charged with espionage by Chinese authorities, which could result in life in prison, according to the Globe and Mail.
Kovrig and Spavor are both charged with spying on national secrets as well as intelligence for non-Chinese entities. According to Zhao Lijian, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, the charges were made “with particularly serious circumstances”
The minimum punishment for the charges is a 10 year sentence. The men are now in a justice system that has a conviction rate upwards of 99 percent.
“The facts of the crime are clear and the evidence is indeed sufficient,” Mr. Zhao said, though he did not describe what the men were accused of or provide any evidence against them.
Both men were arrested on Dec 10, 2018 shortly after the arrests of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver. China has continually called for Wanzhou to be released from Canada, calling the case against her a political prosecution. She has been released on bail in Canada and has spent time in two of her multi-million-dollar houses.
Kovrig and Spavor have received a much rougher treatment in China as they have previously been subject to six or even eight hours of interrogation by state security officials. They were then moved to detention centres that keep the light on for 24-hours every day. The men’s consular access was discontinued after mid-January when the coronavirus pandemic became more serious and they have been unable to see their lawyers. Visits can continue “after this situation gets better,” noted Zhao.
Kovrig previously was a Canadian diplomat and worked for the International Crisis Group as a senior advisor.
He is “a peaceful man interested in reconciliation between North Korea and the world and between the two Koreas,” said Jacco Zwetsloot, Spavor’s friend. “He’s not a political man. He’s not a spy or secret agent.”
The call to prosecute the men comes after Wanzhou’s initial application to be released from Canada was denied by a British Columbia court as she is currently in an extradition process. Wanzhou was accused of fraud connected with violation of sanctions against Iran by U.S. prosecutors, and her lawyers say she is not guilty of any crime.
When asked about the situation with Spavor and Kovrig in China which is commonly referred to as “hostage diplomacy,” Zhao called the question irrelevant and malicious adding, “maybe you should ask the Canadian government about hostage diplomacy.”
Chinese prosecutors could have released Kovrig and Spavor and rejected their cases before the formal charges were filed against them. The men are now likely to see trial and sentencing which could be a process that takes years.
“The statistics that are available make clear that once a case — especially a case involving state security charges — progresses to this stage, a trial is almost inevitable and unfortunately conviction is pretty much certain,” said Joshua Rosenzweig, leader of Amnesty International’s China team. He added that the cases against the men have been“plagued by obvious violations to their rights to a fair trial. The length of time that it’s taken so far even to get to this stage flies in the face of international standards on fair trial.”
Also, if countries “have not already begun to reassess the risks that people working in China face, then they’re far too late to the game.”
Former Canadian diplomat and director of the University of Alberta’s China institute, Gordon Houlden said that the charges against the men “make it less likely they’ll be released soon and more likely they will be detained for some time.”
If China were to release the men now it would “underline that it is a political decision to arrest them and release them — and not something as determined by the aegis of the court itself,” he said.