CHINA (March 22, 2021)—it is the latest development in what has turned into a diplomatic spat between China and the US and Canada.
Michael Spavor was arrested two years ago along with fellow Canadian and former diplomat Michael Kovrig.
“Michael Kovrig has been arbitrarily detained for more than two years now, precisely 833 days,” Jim Nickel, the charge d’affaires at the Canadian Embassy told reporters. “This is completely unacceptable, as is the lack of transparency in these court proceedings.”
The detentions came days after Canada detained Meng Wanzhou, a senior executive at Chinese tech giant Huawei, on a US warrant.
Nathan VanderKlippe tweeted “Diplomats at the Michael Kovrig trial today are from the US, UK, Netherlands, Estonia, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Australia, Germany, France, Switzerland, the EU, Czech Republic, Italy, Ireland, Latvia, Spain, Austria, Norway, Lithuania, New Zealand, Belgium and Romania.”
Diplomats at the Michael Kovrig trial today are from the US, UK, Netherlands, Estonia, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Australia, Germany, France, Switzerland, the EU, Czech Republic, Italy, Ireland, Latvia, Spain, Austria, Norway, Lithuania, New Zealand, Belgium and Romania pic.twitter.com/lD3aCCRMGU— Nathan VanderKlippe (@nvanderklippe) March 22, 2021
Canada has accused China of conducting “hostage diplomacy”. Beijing denies the cases are linked.
Mr Spavor’s trial, which took place in the northern Chinese city of Dandong on Friday morning, appeared to have lasted just two hours. It is not unusual for some trials in China to take place swiftly.
As the trial took place, a group of foreign diplomats gathered outside the court, all of whom were denied entry. Among them was the charge d’affaires of the Canadian embassy in China, Jim Nickel, who told reporters that it was a breach of international law to bar them from the trial.
He added that Canadian diplomats were also refused access to Mr Spavor before his trial, and that they were “disappointed by the lack of transparency and the lack of access”.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday called the closed-door proceedings “completely unacceptable”.
“Their arbitrary detention is completely unacceptable, as is the lack of transparency around these court proceedings,” Mr Trudeau told reporters at a news conference.
The court statement said Friday’s hearing was closed to the public as the case involved state secrets.
“The practice of arbitrary detention to exercise leverage over foreign governments is completely unacceptable – human beings should be used as bargaining chips.”
Mr Kovrig is due to go on trial next week. Both Canadians have been held in prison since their arrest in December 2018.
They were formally indicted in June last year, and face lengthy jail terms if found guilty.
Mr Spavor is a founding member of the Paektu Cultural Exchange, an organisation which facilitates international business and cultural ties with North Korea.
Mr Kovrig worked for the International Crisis Group think tank.