A court in China has convicted a Canadian businessperson – Micheal Spavor – of espionage and sentenced him to 11 years in prison. Spavor has been detained since 2018, after being arrested with fellow Canadian ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig. The court decision was covered by almost every news agency and has been on the agenda for a while.
Decision of the court: Spavor, and his fellow Canadian Michael Kovrig, have spent 975 days in detention, and were tried separately in secret earlier this year. Although there was no decision explicitly for Kovrig’s case, Spavor received 11-years sentence in prison.
The Dandong court announced that “For the crime of spying and illegal provision of state secrets abroad, [Spavor] has been sentenced to 11 years in jail, confiscation of 50,000 yuan ($7,715: £5,578) worth of personal property and deportation.” It is not clear exactly when Spavor will be deported, but in such cases, China usually deports them after their conviction expires.
Why it matters: This decision of the court is critical as it is a test for Sino-Canadian relations, as a result this development has already increased tensions between the two nations. This incident is also expected to alleviate the tension between China the Trans-Atlantic.
Responses: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the conviction was “absolutely unacceptable and unjust.”
“The verdict for Spavor comes after more than two-and-a-half years of arbitrary detention, a lack of transparency in the legal process, and a trial that did not satisfy even the minimum standards required by international law.” (…) “For Mr. Spavor, as well as for Michael Kovrig who has also been arbitrarily detained, our top priority remains securing their immediate release. We will continue working around the clock to bring them home as soon as possible.”Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada
Dominic Barton, Canadian ambassador to China clarified that he “condemned” the conviction: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this [decision] which was rendered without due process or transparency.”
Flashback: The Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada in connection with possible violations of trade sanctions on Iran. Spavor’s arrest in 2018 came just days after Meng’s arrest in Canada.
Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, a senior fellow at the University of Ottawa’s graduate school of public and international affairs evaluated this decision as follows:
“[Spavor’s case] may be a signal that the Chinese are willing to deport him at whatever time the Canadian government creates the right conditions for him to leave – in other words Meng being released to return to China.”
Critics have accused China of treating both Spavor and Kovrig as political bargaining chips, held as part of what is known as “hostage diplomacy.”