Canadian Michael Kovrig, accused by China of spying, goes on trial in Beijing

World

The trial of Michael Kovrig, the second of two Canadians detained in China for more than two years, is underway in Beijing in a closed courtroom, a senior Canadian diplomat said Monday.

Diplomats, including representatives from Canada and the U.S., stand outside the Beijing court where Michael Kovrig's trial is taking place.(Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

The trial of Michael Kovrig, the second of two Canadians detained in China for more than two years, is underway in Beijing in a closed courtroom, a senior Canadian diplomat said Monday.

China arrested Kovrig, a former diplomat, and fellow Canadian Michael Spavor in December 2018, soon after Canadian police detained Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese tech company Huawei, on a U.S. warrant.

Beijing insists the detentions are not linked to the arrest of Meng, who remains under house arrest in Vancouver as she fights extradition to the United States.

Global Affairs Canada confirmed Sunday that Canadian officials won't be granted permission to attend.

"We've requested access to Michael Kovrig's hearing repeatedly but that access is being denied" over national security reasons, said Jim Nickel, chargé d'affaires at the Embassy of Canada to China, outside the court on Monday in Beijing.

"Now we see that the court process itself is not transparent. We're very troubled by this."

The trial of Kovrig, pictured in this file image made from a March 28, 2018, video, is underway in China, according to Nickel.(File photo/The Associated Press)

In a show of solidarity, 28 diplomats from 26 countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, Netherlands and Czech Republic, turned up outside the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate Court on Monday, which was marked by a heavy police presence.

"[U.S.] President [Joe] Biden and [Secretary of State Antony] Blinken have said that in dealing with the cases of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, the United States will treat these two individuals as if they were American citizens," William Klein, chargé d'affaires of the U.S. embassy in China, told reporters as he stood beside Nickel.

Jim Nickel, chargé d'affaires at the Embassy of Canada to China, centre, Willian Klein, chargé d'affaires of the U.S. embassy in China, left, speak to media as they arrive to request entry to the closed trial for Michael Kovrig on Monday in Beijing.(Getty Images)

"We are here to show solidarity. Arbitrary detention is not the way," another diplomat told Reuters, declining to be named as she was not authorized to speak on the record about the Canadians' trial.

More than 50 countries signed a declaration in February to condemn the arbitrary detention of foreign citizens for political purposes.

Some diplomats took off their face masks as they posed for a group photo outside the court, with each shouting out which country they represented to help reporters identify them.

Verdict to come in Spavor trial

On Friday, Spavor, a businessman, underwent a trial behind closed doors in a court in the northeastern city of Dandong. The court said it will set a date later for a verdict.

Canadian and other diplomats were not allowed to attend Spavor's trial on what China said were national security grounds, a lack of transparency that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called "completely unacceptable."

Observers have said the likely convictions of the two men could ultimately facilitate a diplomatic agreement whereby they are released and sent back to Canada. Chinese courts have a conviction rate of over 99 per cent.

Police officers stand outside a Beijing court where Kovrig is standing trial.(Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

Earlier Sunday, Vina Nadjibulla, Kovrig's wife, praised recent public comments from Trudeau, Biden and Blinken in support of "the two Michaels," as they have become known around the world.

But Nadjibulla said in an interview on CBC's she wants to see those words translated into actions that secure their release as soon as possible.

"Solidarity and support and words are good, and we must continue to say those things," Nadjibulla told host Rosemary Barton.

"But what really will make a difference for Michael [Kovrig] and for Michael Spavor now are actions and concerted diplomatic effort on the part of all three governments to find a path forward."

With files from CBC News

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Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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