US, Canada Demand Release of 2 Michaels on 1,000th Day of Arbitrary Detention in China

US, Canada Demand Release of 2 Michaels on 1,000th Day of Arbitrary Detention in China
(L) Michael Spavor, director of Paektu Cultural Exchange, talks during a Skype interview in Yanji, China, on March 2, 2017. (R) Michael Kovrig, an adviser with the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based non-governmental organization, speaks during an interview in Hong Kong on March 28, 2018. (AP photo)
Isabel van Brugen
The United States and Canada on Sept. 5 both called on Beijing to immediately release two Canadian citizens, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who have been detained in China for 1,000 days in what many countries are labeling as “hostage politics.”
Spavor and Kovrig were arbitrarily detained by the Chinese regime shortly after Canada arrested Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou in 2018 on a U.S. extradition request.

The arrests of the two Canadians have widely been seen as retaliation against Canada for the arrest of Meng—a Chinese national who is the chief financial officer for Huawei and the daughter of its founder, Ren Zhengfei.

Both Kovrig and Spavor have since been convicted of spying in closed Chinese courts—a process condemned by Canada and dozens of allies, including the United States.

“Today marks the 1,000th day of the arbitrary detention of Canadian citizens Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig by the People’s Republic of China (PRC),” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a Sept. 5 statement. “We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Canada and the international community in calling for the PRC to release, immediately and unconditionally, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig.”

“The practice of arbitrarily detaining individuals to exercise leverage over foreign governments is completely unacceptable. People should never be used as bargaining chips.”

The arrest of Meng infuriated Beijing, which sees her case as a political move designed to prevent China’s rise. Meng is accused of misleading HSBC bankers about Huawei’s business dealings with Iran-based company Skycom Tech Co. Ltd.—a move that put HSBC at risk of violating U.S. trade sanctions against Iran. Both Meng and Huawei have denied the charges.

Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Marc Garneau said in a Sept. 5 statement that the country and he “strongly condemn the lack of a transparent legal process.”

“Both men are being arbitrarily detained,” Garneau said. “Years have been cruelly stolen from both men and their families. Despite this, they have shown integrity and courage throughout this terrible ordeal.

“Arbitrarily detaining foreign citizens is unjust and immoral. Sixty-six countries endorsed the Declaration Against Arbitrary Detention in State-to-State Relations earlier this year and call for an end to this practice and for the release of all individuals detained for diplomatic leverage.”

Spavor’s and Kovrig’s relatives and supporters are pushing for some sort of political resolution that could bring them home.

They staged a march in Ottawa on Sept. 5, seeking to replicate the 7,000 steps that Kovrig has tried to walk every day in his cramped jail cell to maintain his physical and mental well-being.

“It’s an extremely difficult milestone, but one that we want to mark in this way, in part, to honor the strength and resilience that Michael and Michael Spavor have shown,″ Kovrig’s former wife, Vina Nadjibulla, said.

On Aug. 11, a Chinese court sentenced Spavor to 11 years in prison. Kovrig’s trial was conducted in March. It isn’t clear when he'll be sentenced.

Beijing has rejected the suggestion that the cases of the Canadians in China are being influenced in response to Meng’s case in Canada, although the Chinese regime has warned of unspecified consequences unless Meng is released.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.