A Canadian national detained by the Chinese authorities days after the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou stood trial in Beijing on Monday for “spying.”
Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat detained amid allegations of stealing state secrets more than two years ago, stood trial behind closed doors at the No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court in Beijing.
“The Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court on March 22, 2021 held the trial of Canadian national Michael Kovrig for spying and stealing state secrets on behalf of a foreign power … behind closed doors,” the court said in a statement on its website.
“The trial was attended by Michael Kovrig and his lawyer,” it said. “The [court] will select a date according to law to announce the sentence.”
Kovrig’s trial came three days after that of fellow Canadian detainee and businessman Michael Spavor in the northeastern city of Dandong.
Police cordoned off an area outside the Beijing court, while diplomats from Canada and 23 other countries were denied entry and turned away from the scene, Jim Nickel, the charge d’affaires of the Canadian embassy in Beijing, told reporters.
“We made repeated requests to attend the trial of Michael Kovrig, but these were rejected,” he said. “Now we see that the court process itself is very opaque.”
The court issued a statement after a day-long trial, saying the trial was over, and that it would announce the verdict at a later date.
“Diplomats at the Michael Kovrig trial today are from the US, UK, Netherlands, Estonia, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Australia, Germany, France, Switzerland, the EU, Czech Republic, Italy, Ireland, Latvia, Spain, Austria, Norway, Lithuania, New Zealand, Belgium and Romania,” Nathan Vanderklippe, Beijing correspondent for Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper, said via his Twitter account.
A court official told AFP that nobody was being allowed in because the trial was a national security case.
China’s foreign ministry hit out at the presence of large numbers of diplomats at the scene.
“This is a form of interference in China’s judicial sovereignty… and not something that a diplomat should do,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular news briefing in Beijing on Monday.
The espionage charges are deemed “particularly serious” by state prosecutors, meaning that Kovrig, 50, and Spavor, 44, could face sentences of anything between 10 years and life imprisonment.
Kovrig is accused of using an ordinary passport and business visa to enter China “to steal sensitive information and intelligence through contacts in China since 2017,” Chinese state media have reported.
Spavor’s charges rested on the allegation that he was “a key source of intelligence” for Kovrig, according to the Global Times newspaper.
Kovrig and Spavor were detained days after the arrest of Huawei Technologies’ chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on Dec. 1, 2018, sparking criticism that the move was a form of “hostage diplomacy” on the part of Beijing.
Neither has been allowed access to a lawyer hired by their families or the embassy, and they have had visits only from consular staff, which have been suspended since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Meng, the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, lost a legal bid to avoid extradition to the United States to face bank fraud charges, though the case isn’t likely to be decided finally until May.
China has repeatedly called for her release, and has warned Canada that it could face consequences for aiding the United States in her case.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said earlier this month that the spying charges against Kovrig and Spavor were trumped-up, warning that Ottawa won’t give in to political pressure from Beijing to release Meng.