Canadian Ex-Diplomat on Trial for Espionage Behind Closed Doors in China

BEIJING (Reuters) -
Police officers stand guard at an entrance of Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court where Michael Kovrig, a Canadian detained by China in December 2018 on suspicion of espionage, is expected to stand trial, in Beijing, Monday. (Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

The trial of Michael Kovrig, who has been held in China for more than two years on espionage charges, began in a closed Beijing courtroom on Monday, days after the United States raised concerns over his case at tense talks with China in Alaska.

China arrested Kovrig, a former diplomat, and fellow Canadian Michael Spavor in December 2018, soon after Canadian police detained Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese tech company Huawei Technologies, on a U.S. warrant.

Beijing insists the detentions are not linked to the detention of Meng, who remains under house arrest in Vancouver as she fights extradition to the United States.

“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.”

In a show of solidarity, 28 diplomats from 26 countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, Netherlands and Czech Republic, turned up outside the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate Court on Monday, which was marked by a heavy police presence.

More than 50 countries signed a declaration in February to condemn the arbitrary detention of foreign citizens for political purposes.

Spavor’s trial took place as the United States and China held rancorous high-level talks in Alaska. The United States raised the issue during the talks, a senior Biden administration official said, including its concerns that diplomats were barred from the courtroom in Spavor’s trial.