Former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig detained in China denied lawyer access: Sources

Former diplomat Michael Kovrig is said to be questioned every morning, afternoon and evening, not allowed to turn the lights off at night, and is being held at an undisclosed location.
Former diplomat Michael Kovrig is said to be questioned every morning, afternoon and evening, not allowed to turn the lights off at night, and is being held at an undisclosed location.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (REUTERS) - A former Canadian diplomat detained in China is being denied legal representation and is not allowed to turn the lights off at night, people familiar with the situation said, offering new details on the highly charged and closely watched case.

China last week detained two Canadians - Mr Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat and an adviser with the International Crisis Group (ICG), and businessman Michael Spavor - after Canadian police arrested Huawei Technologies Co's chief financial officer, Ms Meng Wanzhou, on Dec 1.

Canada arrested Ms Meng at the request of the United States, which is engaged in a trade war with China. She faces extradition to the US to face fraud charges, which carry a maximum sentence of 30 years jail for each charge.

China has given only vague details of why they have detained the two Canadians, saying the two are suspected of engaging in activities that endangered China's security, and has not drawn a direct link to Ms Meng's arrest.

Canada has said the detentions are unacceptable and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said China should free the men. ICG president Robert Malley also called for Mr Kovrig's release last Saturday.

The sources familiar with Mr Kovrig's case said the Canadian was taken away at around 10pm local time on Dec 10 while on the street in Beijing.

China formally notified the Canadian government of Mr Kovrig's detention two days later, at 4pm on Wednesday last week. Canada gained consular access to him at a police station only on Friday last week, when he was visited for half an hour by the Canadian ambassador and two other Canadian diplomats, the sources said.

 
 
 
 

He is not allowed to apply for bail and not allowed to see a lawyer, said one source, adding that Mr Kovrig is questioned every morning, afternoon and evening, not allowed to turn the lights off at night, and is being held at an undisclosed location.

He is also allowed only one consular visit a month and is not allowed to see family or loved ones.

He is physically all right, but tired and stressed. Physically, he does not appear mistreated, the source said.

Two other people familiar with the case corroborated the details.

A third person said Mr Kovrig was being confined to a single room, but despite the stress, remains lucid.

The comments were made in recent days. All the sources requested anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the situation.

"Our previous comments on this case stand," said Mr Adam Austen, a spokesman for Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland.

 Under Chinese criminal procedure law, special forms of detention and interrogation can be used for state security suspects.  Rights groups say conditions in Chinese detention facilities are often basic and can be harsh, with lack of legal representation and due process compounding worries about treatment. 

In 2015, a British corporate investigator accused Chinese officials of deliberately withholding medical treatment while he was in jail to try to force him to confess to a role in a scandal involving drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline Plc.

‘LAWFUL RIGHTS’

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Friday (Dec 21) the details of Kovrig’s detention and treatment needed to be checked, and referred specific questions to the “relevant authorities”. 

The Ministry of State Security, which is leading the investigation into Kovrig, has no publicly available contact details. 

“We have already said that China has in accordance with the law guaranteed Michael Kovrig’s lawful rights and humanitarian treatment,” Hua told a daily news briefing. 

Canada has been provided “necessary help” to get consular access, she said.

“I don’t know whether you paid attention to the treatment or the human rights of the Chinese citizen who was illegally detained in Canada at the request of the United States?” Hua said, referring to Huawei’s Meng. 

A Canadian court last week granted Meng bail. Among conditions of her bail, the 46-year-old executive must wear an ankle monitor and stay at home from 11 pm. to 6 am. 

If a Canadian judge rules the case against Ms Meng is strong enough, Canada's justice minister must next decide whether to extradite her to the US. If so, she would face US charges of conspiracy to defraud multiple financial institutions.

China on Thursday said a third, female Canadian is undergoing "administrative punishment" for working illegally, after Canada's government confirmed the detention.

The Canadian government has said several times that it saw no explicit link between the arrest of Ms Meng, the daughter of Huawei's founder, and the detentions of Mr Kovrig and Mr Spavor.

But Beijing-based Western diplomats and former Canadian diplomats have said they believed the detentions were a "tit-for-tat" reprisal by China.