Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor are on their way back to Canada, the country’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a news conference on the evening of Sept. 24.
The two men are widely viewed as victims of Beijing’s “hostage diplomacy” carried out in retaliation against Canada’s arrest and detention of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou at the request of U.S. prosecutors in late 2018. Meng was released earlier on Friday after reaching a deal with the U.S. Justice Department.
Trudeau said the two men, who have been imprisoned in China since December 2018, boarded a plane with Canada’s ambassador Dominic Barton enroute to Canada around 7:30 p.m. Ottawa time.
Trudeau made the announcement hours after the extradition case against Meng, Huawei’s chief financial officer and daughter of the company’s founder, was dropped and she was allowed to leave Canada.
She reportedly left on a flight to China the same evening.
Earlier in the day, Meng appeared before a U.S. federal court, where she reached a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. Justice Department.
She later appeared before a Canadian court, where her bail conditions were lifted and she was free to leave the country.
Kovrig and Spavor were detained in China shortly after Meng’s arrest in Vancouver on Dec. 1, 2018, on a U.S. extradition request. Their detentions are widely seen as instances of Beijing’s “hostage diplomacy.”
Meng was charged with bank fraud for allegedly lying to HSBC about Huawei’s business dealings with Iran, leading HSBC to violate U.S. sanctions on Iran.
The Beijing regime, which warned Canada of dire consequences if Meng was not released, had charged Kovrig and Spavor with espionage.
The two were initially held in solitary confinement, with the lights kept on in their cells day and night. This can lead to sleep deprivation, which is recognized as a torture method by human rights organizations.
In August, a Chinese court sentenced Spavor to 11 years in prison. Kovrig, whose trial was held in March, had yet to be sentenced.
“These two men have been through an unbelievably difficult situation, but it is inspiring and it is good news for all of us that they are on their way home to their families,” Trudeau said.
The leader of the opposition Conservative Party Erin O’Toole also welcomed the news.
“Our family shares the elation of millions of Canadians that our citizens are coming home. Thank you to all diplomats involved!” O’Toole said on Twitter.
Another Canadian, Robert Schellenberg, has been given a death sentence in China. Schellenberg was originally sentenced 15 years in prison on drug smuggling charges, but had his sentence changed after Meng’s arrest.
No update was provided on Schellenberg’s case on Sept. 24.