Michael Kovrig, one of two Canadians detained in China for more than two years, went under trial for espionage charges in a closed courtroom in Beijing on Monday. The development comes days after the United States raised the issue during its bilateral talks with the Communist regime.
One senior Canadian diplomat reportedly said that was denied access to the court in Beijing on Monday, echoing the scenes on Friday, when entrepreneur Michael Spavor was tried in secret in a court process that lasted only a few hours. Kovrig was arrested in December 2018 along with Spavor.
Korvig was arrested days after Huawei's top executive Meng Wanzhou was detained in Vancouver, British Columbia. Needless to say, it was a retaliatory move by China and since then the ex-diplomat has been behind the bars in Beijing amid calls of his immediate release from his wife and multiple nations.
On Monday, around 28 diplomats from 26 countries stood outside the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate Court to show solidarity with Kovrig. "We've requested access to Michael Kovrig's hearing repeatedly but that access is being denied" over national security reasons, Jim Nickel, charge d'affaires of the Canadian embassy in China, told reporters outside the Beijing court after the trial began. "Now we see that the court process itself is not transparent. We're very troubled by this."
Last month, 50 countries had signed a declaration calling out China for "arbitrary detention" of foreigners for political motives. China on the other hand has strictly said that it won't allow any diplomat to attend the trial including anyone from Canada on national security grounds, a lack of transparency that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called "completely unacceptable."
Observers have said the convictions of the two men could ultimately lead to a diplomatic agreement wherein they are released and sent back to Canada. Chinese courts have a conviction rate of over 99%.
Last week, Spavor underwent trial behind closed doors in a court in the north-eastern city of Dandong, which said it will set a date later for a verdict. There too Canadian and other diplomats were not allowed to attend Spavor's trial on grounds of national security.
The two men have been held virtually incommunicado and unable to see lawyers or family since they were detained in December 2018. Even consular visits were suspended for months because of the coronavirus pandemic.
While speaking on the development, Michael Kovrig's wife Vina Nadjibulla said, "Michael and Michael Spavor are innocent Canadians caught up in a bigger geopolitical dispute. Their detention is profoundly unjust and our focus must remain on securing their freedom."
"Those with the power to end this unjust, arbitrary detention I believe must do whatever is possible to do so," Nadjibulla added. The United States had earlier raised concerns during the bilateral talks with China in Alaska last week.
Meanwhile, William Klein, charge d'affaires of the US embassy in China said the Biden administration will treat these Spavor & Kovrig as if they were American citizens. That said, the situation has led to a sharp deterioration in relations between Canada and China, which has rejected accusations that it detained Spavor and Kovrig in response to Meng's arrest.