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Canadian Michael Spavor Sentenced to 11 Years in China for Espionage

Published: August 11, 2021
Louis Huang of Vancouver Freedom and Democracy for China holds photos of Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, who are being detained by China, outside British Columbia Supreme Court, in Vancouver, on March 6, 2019, as Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou appears in court. (Image: JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images)

Canadian citizen, Michael Spavor, after years of detention in one of China’s many “residential surveillance at a designated location” (RSDL) prisons was been sentenced on Wednesday, Aug. 11, by a court in Dandong city to 11 years in prison. 

Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, blasted the verdict as “absolutely unacceptable and unjust” adding that, “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.”

The verdict came down just as Beijing was applying further pressure on Canadian authorities ahead of a Canadian court ruling on whether or not to hand over Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer, to the United States to face criminal charges for allegedly violating sanctions placed on Iran by the U.S..

Meng has been fighting her extradition to the United States while under house arrest in the Canadian province of British Columbia.  

Spavor’s arrest by Chinese authorities in 2018 came just days after Meng’s arrest in Canada leading many to conclude that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was engaging in hostage diplomacy tactics.

Spavor, and fellow Canadian Michael Kovrig have spent over 975 days in detention in one of China’s RSDL prisons, according to Safeguard Defenders, a human rights NGO that was founded in late 2016 and that’s offices are located in Madrid.

In March, China’s state-funded media tabloid, the Global Times, said that Spavor, who resided near the North Korean border and conducted cultural exchanges with the North Koreans, was accused of supplying intelligence to fellow Canadian Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat who worked for the International Crisis Group, that according to their website “is an independent organization working to prevent wars and shape policies that will build a more peaceful world.”

Spavor’s organization was based in Dandong, which is located across the border in Northeast China. A fluent speaker of Korean, he is personally acquainted with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

Canadian authorities have said that the charges against both Spavor and Kovrig are baseless.

The ruling

On Wednesday, August 11, a court in Dandong handed down a guilty verdict to Spavor for illegally providing state secrets to other countries. In addition to a lengthy 11 year sentence he had all of his personal property confiscated and was fined 50,000 yuan (US$7,715), according to a statement by the Liaoning Dandong intermediate people’s court. 

The court also ordered that Spavor be deported, however it was not clear when this would occur. There is a possibility that Spavor could be deported back to Canada prior to his sentence being completely served. 

Mo Shaoping, a Beijing based lawyer, told Reuters that deportation generally occurs after a person has finished their sentence but early deportation has been known to happen in special cases. 

A similar case occurred in 2014 when Canadian couple Kevin and Julia Garratt were detained, charged and sentenced in China following Canada’s extradition of Su Bin, a suspected spy, to the United States. The couple were released and deported in 2017 shortly after Su cut a deal in the United States.

Dominic Barton, a Canadian ambassador said he was disappointed with the long sentence stating, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this [decision] which was rendered without due process or transparency.” adding that “hopefully there is a way for him to get home a little earlier,” The Guardian reported. 

Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, a senior fellow at the University of Ottawa’s graduate school told The Guardian, “[Spavor’s case] may be a signal that the Chinese are willing to deport him at whatever time the Canadian government creates the right conditions for him to leave – in other words Meng being released to return to China.”

Spavor has two weeks to appeal the decision but China’s justice system rarely grants appeals and is known to post conviction rates of 99.9 percent.