Michael Kovrig Urges Unity Against Hostage Diplomacy, as Canada Helps Craft Rules

Michael Kovrig Urges Unity Against Hostage Diplomacy, as Canada Helps Craft Rules
Former diplomat Michael Kovrig embraces his wife Vina Nadjibulla upon his arrival at Toronto Pearson International Airport on Sept. 25, 2021. (DND-MDN Canada/Cpl. Justin Dreimanis)
The Canadian Press

A Canadian man who was held in China for nearly three years is calling on governments around the world to co-ordinate sanctions and travel bans on states that arrest foreigners for political reasons.

“Arbitrary detention creates small tears in the fabric of international law through which innocent people are dragged into darkness,” Michael Kovrig said Wednesday at a United Nations forum convened by the federal Liberal government.

“Without co-ordinated advocacy, pressure and negotiation, the sad reality is that I might still be sitting in that cell right now. Many other people, too many, are still trapped in similar political nightmares.”

Kovrig said support from Canadian consular officials and the public buoyed him during his detention in China, where he and fellow Canadian Michael Spavor were arrested in December 2018.

China was widely viewed to have detained the men in retaliation for arrest of Chinese tech executive Meng Wanzhou days earlier at the Vancouver airport on a U.S. extradition warrant. They were brought home to Canada in September 2021, the same day Meng returned to China after reaching a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S.

Canada is leading an effort alongside the United States, Malawi and Costa Rica to stop countries from feeling emboldened to pursue arbitrary detention for political leverage.

The effort has so far involved a set of principles in a declaration signed by 72 countries, and an action plan to create consequences for those who arrest foreigners on spurious grounds.

The government of Malawi said it’s particularly concerned that states are imprisoning journalists from countries they have disputes with. It cited the case of Russia’s detention of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich.