The People’s Procuratorate of Beijing Municipality filed criminal charges against Kovrig on Friday for “spying on state secrets and intelligence.” The Dandong People’s Prosecutor’s Office also filed a public lawsuit against Spavor for “spying and illegally giving state secrets.”
Both were arrested in the weeks following the arrest in Vancouver of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese technology company Huawei in late 2018, on charges filed in the United States.
U.S. prosecutors want Meng to be tried on multiple charges, including bank fraud and violations of U.S. sanctions against Iran.
Speaking at a regular press conference on Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the evidence against the two Canadians was “solid”.
“The facts are clear and the evidence is solid. He (Kovrig) should be held accountable for criminal liability,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a regular press briefing on Friday.
Zhao added that the evidence against Michael Spavor was also “solid” and that “the facts are clear”.
Asked if Kovrig and Spavor had access to consular assistance during the coronavirus pandemic, Zhao said: “During this pandemic, to ensure the safety of detainees, we are suspending consular visits, which will continue once the situation improves.”
In addition to mainland China, the new accusations will arouse fear in Hong Kong over the upcoming national security law, which Beijing will impose on the city, circumventing local legislation.
Kovrig is a former diplomat in Beijing and worked for the International Crisis Group (ICG). Spavor is the founder of cultural exchange Paektu, a company that helps facilitate travel to North Korea. He helped former NBA player Dennis Rodman travel to Pyongyang to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The Canadian government has repeatedly described their detention as “arbitrary.” Family members and contacts of the two men described how they behave in poor conditions, and denied external contact.
“In both cases, they receive consular visits once a month, for exactly 30 minutes, with someone there following the entire discussion,” he said. “It mostly serves to inform about their family and give books and other reading material. It’s very difficult for them, they wait and have no idea when and how they might be released.”
A person familiar with the situation told CNN that Canadian diplomatic efforts so far have focused on trying to address what remains a complex political interference.
There is a larger geopolitical game going on between China and the US in which Canada is somehow caught in the middle, the person added, and that is two Canadians paying the price.
Saint-Jacques agreed, saying China is a problem with the United States, “but of course they dare not arrest any former (American) diplomats or diplomats on leave.”
He said China was surprised by the widespread international condemnation of the arrest of the two Canadians, but other than providing support to the allies, Ottawa could do little. “It’s pretty hard to find something because we don’t have much that the Chinese really want,” he said.
In a statement on the anniversary of his detention last year, Spavor’s family said he was “caught as unconscious and misunderstood human ashes in a conflict between two superpowers and swallowed by geopolitical currents and forces beyond his control.”
CNN’s Shanshan Wang and Steve George contributed to the reporting.