China says it’s upholding the law as 2 Canadians head to trial

China says it's upholding the law as 2 Canadians head to trial

China says it has protected the legal rights of two Canadians due to be tried on national security charges starting Friday — allegations the Canadian government says Beijing fabricated following the arrest of Huawei telecom executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver.

“Chinese judicial organs handle cases independently in accordance with the law and fully protect all the legal rights of persons involved,” spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters at a daily briefing Thursday.

His comments come a day after Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau said the Canadian Embassy in Beijing has been notified that court hearings for the two are scheduled to take place Friday and Monday.

“We believe these detentions are arbitrary and remain deeply troubled by the lack of transparency surrounding these proceedings,” said Garneau.

WATCH | Spavor, Kovrig to go on trial in China for espionage:

Freelance reporter Patrick Fok says the timing of the espionage trials in China for Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig may be linked to trade talks between the U.S. and China. 1:54

Kovrig, a former diplomat who was working for an international non-profit group, and Spavor, an entrepreneur who promotes tourism and investment in North Korea, are Canadian citizens who were detained separately by China more than two years ago.

They were arrested in December 2018 shortly after Huawei telecom executive Meng Wanzhou was arrested by Canadian officials in Vancouver.

Meng was arrested on a U.S. extradition request over allegations that she lied to a Hong Kong banker in August 2013 about Huawei’s control of a subsidiary accused of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran.

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The two men stand accused of spying on China, charges Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said China made up in retaliation for Meng’s arrest.

“It is obvious that the two Michaels were arrested on trumped-up national security charges days after we fulfilled our extradition treaty responsibilities toward our ally, the United States,” Trudeau said earlier this month.

Finding of guilt almost certain: former ambassador 

Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China, said the odds are stacked against the two men.

“We know it’s preordained. Once you are formally charged in China, you are found guilty in more than 99.2 per cent of the cases,” he told CBC News Network’s Power & Politics on Wednesday.

“We have to brace ourselves for some bad news down the road.”

Saint-Jacques said the timing of the trials, which comes as American and Chinese officials gather in Alaska for a summit, is likely not a coincidence. 

“We are in the hands of the Americans,” he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan are expected to meet China’s top two diplomats, State Councillor Wang Yi and Chinese Communist Party foreign affairs chief Yang Jiechi, in Anchorage later Thursday.

Zhao rejected allegations the trial and meetings are linked, while also urging the U.S. to release Meng.

“We urge the U.S. to correct its mistakes immediately and let Ms. Meng Wanzhou return to China safely immediately,” he said at the Thursday briefing.

In an interview with Power & Politics on Wednesday, Kovrig’s wife, Vina Nadjibulla, said it is an emotional and difficult time for her and her family. 

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“We suspected that this day was coming and that it was coming soon,” she said. “But it’s still a lot to take in, and it is emotional and hard to fully express what this means.” 

WATCH | Michael Kovrig’s wife reacts to news of his upcoming trial:

Vina Nadjibulla tells Power & Politics, the past few years have been a difficult journey but she’s focused on bringing Michael Kovrig home, despite his upcoming trial in China. 10:06

Kovrig’s employer, the International Crisis Group, issued a statement on Thursday urging, once again, for China to release him.

“From the moment he was detained, the political nature of his case has been clear. What happens in the Chinese legal system does not change this,” said the organization’s interim president, Richard Atwood.

“After 830 days imprisoned, Michael should be released immediately so he can return home to his loved ones.”

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