The trial of Michael Kovrig, who has been held in China for more than two years on espionage charges, is taking place in Beijing in a closed courtroom, days after the United States expressed concern over its case in tense bilateral talks with China in Alaska.
China arrested Kovrig, a former diplomat, and Canadian Michael Spavor in December 2018, shortly after Canadian police arrested Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese technology company Huawei Technologies, on a US 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 have repeatedly requested access to Michael Kovrig’s hearing but that access is denied” for national security reasons, Jim Nickel, accused by the Canadian Embassy in China, told reporters outside the Beijing tribunal after the trial began. “Now we see that the court process is not transparent. We are very worried about this.”
In a show of solidarity, 28 diplomats from 26 countries, including the United States, Britain, Germany, Australia, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic, met outside Beijing’s No. 2 Interim Court on Monday, marked by a heavy police presence.
“(US) President (Joe) Biden and (Secretary of State Antony) Blinken have said that the United States will treat these two individuals as if they were US citizens when dealing with the cases of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor,” William Klein accused of the US Embassy in China, told reporters as he stood next to Nickel.
“We are here to show solidarity. Arbitrary deprivation of liberty is not the way,” another diplomat told Reuters, declining to be named because she was not authorized to speak about the Canadian trial.
More than 50 countries signed a declaration in February condemning the arbitrary detention of foreign nationals for political purposes.
Some diplomats took off their face masks as they posed for a group photo outside the courthouse, each shouting out which country they represented to help journalists identify them.
On Friday, businessman Spavor was also on trial in a closed courtroom in the northeastern city of Dandong. The court said it would set a date later for a verdict.
Canadian and other diplomats were not allowed to attend Spavor’s trial because of what China said were national security grounds, a lack of transparency that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called “completely unacceptable.”
Observers have said the two men’s likely convictions could ultimately facilitate a diplomatic deal where they will be released and sent back to Canada.
Chinese courts have a conviction rate of over 99%.
“Michael and Michael Spavor are innocent Canadians caught in a major geopolitical dispute,” Kovrig’s wife, Vina Nadjibulla, told Reuters.
“Their detention is deeply unfair and our focus must remain on securing their freedom,” she said.
Spavor’s trial took place when the United States and China held crazy high-level talks in Alaska. The United States raised the issue during the talks, said a senior official in the Biden administration, including his fears that diplomats were expelled from the courtroom in Spavor’s trial.