China formally arrests Canadian ex-diplomat, businessman

Protesters hold photos of Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig outside British Columbia Supreme Court, in Vancouver on March 6, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (AFP) - China said on Thursday (May 16) two Canadians who have been detained since December have been formally arrested for crimes linked to taking state secrets.

Former diplomat Michael Kovrig is suspected of "collecting state secrets and intelligence", while businessman Michael Spavor is suspected of "stealing and illegally offering state secrets" abroad, said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang at a press briefing.

"Canada strongly condemns their arbitrary arrest as we condemned their arbitrary detention on Dec 10," the Canadian foreign ministry said in a statement to Canada's The Globe and Mail newspaper .

Though no link has been officially made, the detention of Mr Spavor and Mr Kovrig is thought to be in retaliation for Canada's Dec 1 detention, on a United States extradition request, of Meng Wanzhou, a top executive of Chinese telecom giant Huawei who is accused of violating Iran sanctions.

The men were first accused of activities that "endanger China's security" - a phrase often used by Beijing when alleging espionage.

China later announced it suspected Mr Kovrig of spying and stealing state secrets, and alleged that Mr Spavor had provided him with intelligence.

Spying charges could expose them to tough prison sentences.

Both men have been denied access to lawyers and allowed only monthly consular visits. The latest such visit came earlier this week.

No details of the men's detention or health conditions were provided due to Canadian privacy laws, but officials said they would press for further access to both detainees. China has also never announced where the men are being held.

Meanwhile, a group of Canadian parliamentarians had earlier complained to Chinese officials that Mr Kovrig and Mr Spavor have been denied access to lawyers, and remain in "completely unacceptable" detention conditions.

Two other Canadians convicted of drug trafficking, meanwhile, have been sentenced to death. Canada has called the death penalties for Fen Wei and Robert Lloyd Schellenberg "cruel and inhumane". And Beijing recently blocked Canadian shipments of canola and pork worth billions of dollars.

Meng - who is currently fighting extradition to the US - is allowed to live in her Vancouver mansion, although her mobility is limited.

She has been ordered to wear an electronic anklet and hand over her passports after being released on bail in mid-December on a Can$10 million (S$10.2 million) bond.

Ottawa has rallied the support of a dozen countries, including Britain, France, Germany and the US, as well as the EU, NATO and the G7, in its diplomatic feud with China.

Washington, meanwhile stepped up its battle against Huawei on Wednesday, effectively barring the company from the US market and restricting US sales to the firm. The United States has urged allies to shun Huawei's 5G technology, warning that it could serve the interests of Chinese intelligence services.

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