Canadian businessman Michael Spavor has been sentenced to 11 years in prison in China for espionage and betraying Chinese state secrets, it was announced on Wednesday.
Spavor is one of the so-called “two Michaels”, the second being the former diplomat Michael Kovrig. Both were arrested in December 2018, a few days after Meng Wanzhou, top woman at Chinese tech giant Huawei and daughter of the company’s founder, was arrested at a Canadian airport.
Also read: China uses ‘the two Michaels’ as pawns in conflict over Huawei
Meng is accused of trying to circumvent US sanctions against Iran through illegal financial schemes. America therefore wants Canada to extradite her to the US. The Canadian judge will probably rule on that request one of these days.
Conflict over Huawei
With the conviction of Spavor and the case against two other Canadians, China may want to put pressure on Canada in the case against Meng Wanzhou, top woman of the Chinese tech giant Huawei, who is on trial in Vancouver. China, however, denies this.
Dominic Barton, Canada’s ambassador to China, attended the trial in the northern Chinese city of Dandong. Senior diplomats from 25 other countries gathered in solidarity at the Canadian embassy in Beijing.
Barton links the cases against the Canadians directly to the case against Meng, who is pending in the Vancouver court. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this is happening right now as things continue in Vancouver,” Barton said on Tuesday.
Spavor and Kovrig are kept in almost complete isolation from the outside world, the light in their cell is on 24 hours a day. They are not allowed to see their family. For a long time they were also denied access to their lawyers. In 2019, Kovrig could not read anything for a while, because his reading glasses were taken from him. Meng Wanzhou has access to lawyers in Canada, she is out on bail.
Spavor’s trial did not begin until March this year, more than two years after his arrest. The judge already pronounced the conviction, but the sentence did not follow until Wednesday. Eleven years is more than initially anticipated.
Robert Lloyd Schellenberg
Spavor’s conviction follows shortly after the verdict against Canadian Robert Lloyd Schellenberg. He had appealed his death sentence for drug smuggling, but that sentence was not reviewed on Tuesday.
Also read: Chinese court dismisses appeal against death penalty Canadian Robert Lloyd Schellenberg
Schellenberg was initially given a lighter sentence, but shortly after Meng’s arrest, the case was reopened and the death penalty followed. Canada also links this severe sentence to Meng’s arrest. The punishment is not immediately executed: it can still be reviewed by a higher court.
Canada previously called the cases against the two Michaels cases of “extortion diplomacy,” but China says Canada “has been grossly interfering with China’s legal independence.” Meng is being held in Canada “arbitrarily and unlawfully,” Beijing said.