China opens spy trial against Canadian accused of espionage

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dpa/GNA – China on Monday opened a trial against Canadian former diplomat Michael Kovrig, who has been held on espionage charges for over two years, less than a week after it opened proceedings against compatriot Michael Spavor.

Kovrig’s trial opened on Monday behind closed doors in Beijing. Diplomats from more than two dozen countries, including Germany, attempted in vain on Monday to gain access to the proceeding.

Many legal observers say the pair are pawns caught in a fight between Washington and Beijing.

Kovrig and Spavor, whose trial opened on Friday, were arrested in December 2018 following the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of the Chinese telecom giant Huawei, in Canada at the instigation of US authorities.

Some diplomats see the case as a “retaliation” for Meng’s arrest and accuse Beijing of “hostage diplomacy.”

The charges d’affaires at the Canadian embassy in Beijing, Jim Nickel, said Kovrig had been “arbitrarily detained.”

“And now we see that the court process itself is not transparent. We are very troubled by this,” Nickel added.

“The reason that has been given to us while we are being denied access to our citizen facing trial is that this is a so-called national security case and therefore it is a closed case, a closed court room.”

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said criticism of the way Beijing was handling the case amounted to “interference in China’s judicial sovereignty.”

“Because the cases involve state secrets, the hearing is not held in open courts … We urge Canada to stop using double standards.”

“The most pressing thing to do is for Canada to correct its mistake and release Miss Meng and allow her to return to China,” Hua said.

At the time of his arrest, Kovrig was working as an expert for the International Crisis Group think tank in China.

Spavor, whose trial opened in the north-eastern Chinese city of Dandong last week, ran a cultural exchange company with North Korea in China.

Both defendants face long prison terms if convicted.

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