China to begin first trial of Canadians held on spy charges

Hearings set for Kovrig, Spavor; two Canadians detained in China since 2018

Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor set to face court in China over spying charges

The trial of Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat, is scheduled to start on Monday in Beijing.

Jim Nickel, the charge d'affaires of the Canadian embassy in Beijing, told reporters outside the courtroom in northeastern China that the hearing had finished, and officials were awaiting the verdict.

Neither Spavor nor Kovrig has been able to hire a lawyer of their choosing; instead, they have been assigned lawyers appointed by their respective courts. It said that Spavor - who is charged with spying and illegally sending state secrets overseas - and his defense lawyers were present for the proceedings and that the court would pronounce a sentence at a date "determined in accordance with law". Biden called for the Canadians' release after a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last month, saying that "human beings are not bartering chips".

Michael Spavor is one of two Canadians detained, in apparent retaliation for Canada's arrest on a United States extradition warrant of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, and formally charged last June with spying. Both are charged with spying.

The entrance to the courthouse was cordoned off with police tape Friday, and journalists were kept outside, although not detained or told to leave, as often occurs during sensitive legal cases. Police cars and vans with lights flashing passed through the gate to the court complex, located beside the Yalu River that divides China from North Korea.

Earlier, Nickel had knocked on a court door seeking entry but was refused.

The trial also came alongside high-level talks between the U.S. and China in Anchorage, Alaska.

Among them was the charge d'affaires of the Canadian embassy in China, Jim Nickel, who told reporters that it was a breach of global law to bar them from the trial.

Meng, whose father is Huawei founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei, has been fighting extradition to the U.S. on charges that she and the company violated USA sanctions on Iran and other laws. The Chinese government says the two Canadians are being treated according to the country's law.

The family of Canadian businessman Michael Spavor and former diplomat Michael Kovrig's bosses on Thursday called on China to release both men facing trial within days.

A rally in Vancouver, Canada, to release the two Canadians accused of espionage in China. China has often linked the cases to Meng's, with Zhao, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, telling reporters a year ago that halting the extradition "could open up space for resolution to the situation of the two Canadians".

Paisana said Meng was never told during questioning that she faced an arrest warrant in the U.S. and would have immediately asked for a lawyer if so informed. "It becomes a lot more complicated to extract them from China", Saint-Jacques said.

China has demanded Meng's immediate and unconditional release, saying the U.S. engineered her detention as part of a drive to contain China's growing rise. The Canadian government says China will begin trials in March 2021 for two Canadians, Spavor and Michael Kovrig, who were arrested in 2019 in apparent retaliation for Canada's detention of a senior executive for Chinese communications giant Huawei Technologies.

China has also retaliated by placing restrictions on various Canadian exports to China, including canola oil seed and handed death sentences to four Canadians convicted of drug smuggling.

That same week, Blinken pledged "absolute solidarity" with Canada after his own virtual conference with Garneau and a host of other Canadian officials, including Kirsten Hillman, Canada's ambassador to the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security advisor Jake Sullivan are now holding their first face-to-face talks with China's top diplomats in Anchorage.

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