Mon, Dec 09, 2019 - Page 4 News List

Trio held over diplomatic row face different treatment

NO COMPARISON:Two Canadians held in China, likely as retaliation for the arrest of a Chinese telecom executive, live in cramped spaces with a 15 minute daily walk


Two Canadians who disappeared into China’s state security apparatus in what was widely seen as retaliation for the arrest of a Chinese telecom executive remain secluded in detention a year on, without access to lawyers or family.

Former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor have been languishing in China’s opaque legal system since they were apprehended on Dec. 10 last year, just nine days after the arrest of Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou (孟晚舟).

According to analysts, their fate is tied to what happens to Meng, who will have a hearing next month in a US extradition case that could potentially last years.

In the meantime, the trio face starkly different conditions.

Kovrig and Spavor have endured hours of interrogation and in the first six months of detention, they were forced to sleep with the lights on, according to people familiar with the matter.

However, Meng is reading and painting in a mansion in Vancouver, where she is allowed to travel under curfew, tracked by an ankle bracelet.

Diplomatic relations between Canada and China have hit rock bottom over the arrests, damaging trade between the countries. Beijing has repeatedly called for Meng’s release, while Ottawa says its citizens were arbitrarily detained.

“It’s a political case” and there are “very few signs of progress,” said Guy Saint-Jacques, the former Canadian ambassador to Beijing.

Meng, the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei (任正非), was arrested while changing planes in Vancouver on Dec. 1 last year.

Accused by the US of violating Iran sanctions, she has hired a team of lawyers to help her fight extradition in court.

“Right now, time seems to pass slowly,” Meng wrote in an open letter thanking supporters on the anniversary of her arrest.

Her mother and husband visit her, Ren told reporters, adding that he was in contact with his daughter, who is “suffering.”

Across the Pacific, Kovrig and Spavor have had no direct contact with anyone outside of consular visits that each last 30 minutes, sources said.

They face allegations of collecting state secrets, but neither has been formally charged, which suggests Chinese authorities may be “biding their time,” Saint-Jacques said.

Kovrig is being held in a cell with about 20 inmates in Beijing, while Spavor shares his with 18 people in Dandong, according to Saint-Jacques.

They are allowed outside for 15 minutes per day, he said.

In the first weeks following Kovrig’s arrest, even books were denied.

Spavor, who was based in northeast China, facilitated trips to North Korea, including past visits by US basketball legend Dennis Rodman. He even met North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Kovrig’s employer, the International Crisis Group think tank, said that the former diplomat who was based in Hong Kong was regularly invited to the mainland by Chinese officials and could not have been viewed as hostile to China.

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