Canadian businessman Michael Spavor.
Kim Kyung-Hoon | Reuters
WASHINGTON – The United States on Wednesday issued a sharp condemnation following a Chinese court’s sentencing of Canadian businessman Michael Spavor to 11 years in prison for espionage, in a case embroiled in a wider diplomatic feud between Washington and Beijing.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken slammed the proceedings against Spavor and Michael Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat charged with espionage.
“We join our partners in condemning Beijing’s sentencing of Canadian citizen Michael Spavor, and calling on Beijing to immediately release Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, both arbitrarily detained for more than two-and-a-half-years,” Blinken said in a statement. “People are not bargaining chips.”
Chinese authorities detained both Spavor and Kovrig in late 2018, days after Canada arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou at Vancouver International Airport on a warrant from the United States for reported violations of American sanctions on Iran.
Huawei Technologies Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou reaches into her bag for a face mask as she leaves her home to attend a court hearing in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada March 15, 2021.
Jennifer Gauthier | Reuters
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the court’s sentencing of Spavor was “absolutely unacceptable” and called for Spavor and Kovrig’s release.
“The verdict for Mr. 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,” he said.
China has rejected the idea that the arrests of the Canadians are an apparent retaliation for the Huawei arrest.
Kovrig’s espionage trial concluded in March, it is unclear when his verdict will be announced.
Spavor’s espionage sentence comes as lawyers in Canada representing Meng, chief financial officer of Chinese telecom giant Huawei, work to avoid her possible extradition to the United States.
Meng’s extradition hearings are in their last few weeks with a ruling expected in the next few months. Canada’s justice minister will make a final decision as to whether she will be extradited.