A Chinese court has reportedly sentenced Canadian businessman Michael Spavor to 11 years in jail for allegedly spying on the country. He has now been reportedly put in a 'secret jail,' a decision swiftly condemned by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as "unacceptable and unjust."
Spavor was arrested in 2018 along with compatriot Michael Kovrig by officials in China and were charged with spying. Their arrest came just weeks after Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Vancouver, Canada on a US extradition warrant to face fraud charges. Canada has seen called the arrests of Spavor and Korvig a politically orchestrated move.
Innocent Behind the Bars
On Wednesday, Spavor was found guilty of spying and sentenced to 11 years in a Chinese prison, according to an announcement from the Intermediate People's Court in Dandong City. Spavor "was convicted of espionage and illegally providing state secrets," the court said.
Besides, China has also confiscated 50,000 yuan or $7,713 worth of Spavor's personal assets and said he'll be deported after completing his sentence. It is not known where he is being held but local media reports suggest that Spavor has been put in a 'secret jail' following his sentencing.
According to the New York Times, Barton is being held at a detention center in northeastern China where the sentencing verdict was also delivered on Wednesday. The times described the detention center as a 'secret jail.'
Before he was sentenced, prosecutors showed evidence in court including photos which Spavor allegedly took at "airports where one should not take photos and also some photos from some military bases," according to Canada's ambassador to China, Dominic Barton.
Trapped in the Middle of Political Game
Besides serving 11 years, Spavor will also have to pay a fine before he is deported to Canada on completion of his sentence. Barton said the provision does leave an opening to argue that Spavor should come home earlier in his appeal. He has 10 days to appeal the verdict.
Barton said he was able to speak with Spavor on Wednesday. "He wanted to send three messages," Barton said. "One: thank you for all your support, it means a lot to me. Two, I'm in good spirits. And three: I want to get home."
It's the latest move by China that observers say is meant to up the ante in a high-stakes game of intimidation the government in Beijing has been playing with Canada.
Canadian officials have been maintaining since 2018 that Sapvor and Kovrig are being detained "arbitrarily" and now say that the country is "disappointed" with the sentencing.
The Spavor verdict comes just a day after a Chinese court upheld the death sentence of another Canadian citizen on a drug smuggling conviction.
Since their detention, Spavor and Kovrig have had almost no contact with the outside world. Virtual consular visits resumed in October after a nine-month hiatus, which authorities said was due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, Canadian diplomats were barred from entering Spavor's three-hour trial in Dandong this March, when he was charged with spying.
Spavor organized cultural visits to Pyongyang, where he met Kim Jong Un and helped foster the unlikely friendship between the North Korean leader and former NBA star Dennis Rodman. His family has maintained he was innocent of the accusations against him, saying he had done much as a businessman to "build constructive ties" between Canada, China and North Korea.
Jim Nickel, the deputy head of mission at the Canadian Embassy in Beijing, said that the Canadian government had complained to China that Spavor's trial in March 'failed to meet basic standards' of fairness and defendants' rights.