Family, employer call on China to release two Canadians

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No verdict has been announced. Nickel declined to give other details, citing protection of Spavor's privacy.

In a statement posted on its website, the Intermediate People's Court of Dandong in the northeastern province of Liaoning Province said it had held a closed-door hearing against Spavor on charges of spying and illegally sending state secrets overseas.

He appeared in court to face charges of "spying and illegal provision of state secrets abroad", according to a statement from the court, which also said it would set a later date for the verdict.

Fellow Canadian Michael Kovrig is due in court Monday.

China arrested former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor in December 2018 soon after Canadian police detained Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of telecom giant Huawei, on a United States warrant. Kovrig is also charged with spying.

Just before 9 am (0100GMT), court vans with a police auto escort arrived at the court house, though it was not possible to see if Spavor was in any of the vehicles.

Earlier, Nickel had knocked on a court door seeking entry but was refused.

It is the latest in a diplomatic spat between China and the U.S. and Canada.

"China needs to understand that it is not just about two Canadians, it is about the respect for the rule of law, and relationships with a broad range of Western countries that is at play with the arbitrary detention and the coercive diplomacy they have engaged in", he said.

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Where the legal allegations against Ms. Meng have been publicly released in lengthy documents by the US, which accuses her of fraud related to violations of sanctions against Iran, China has used state secrecy provisions to hide any disclosure of what evidence it is using to charge Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor.

"The embassy has made requests to the Chinese authorities on several occasions to gain access to Michael Spavor prior to the trial, (but we) have not yet had access to him", Jim Nickel, Charge d'affaires of the Canadian Embassy in China, told reporters.

After Mr Kovrig and Mr Spavor were charged with espionage past year, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau denounced the "political" nature of their case, saying their detention was a "decision made by the Chinese government and we deplore it".

The court statement said Friday's hearing was closed to the public as the case involved state secrets. Kovrig, an analyst and former diplomat, was charged with illegally receiving state secrets and intelligence in collaboration with Spavor.

Meng's case has infuriated the Chinese government, which has promoted Huawei as a global leader in mobile communications technology. Her arrest enraged Beijing, which sees the US case as a political move created to prevent China's rise, and it sent China-Canada relations into a tailspin.

Peter Humphrey, a British former journalist and corporate investigator who spent two years detained in Shanghai, said he believes China deliberately timed the trials to overlap the Alaska meetings. Canadian authorities say Kavrig and Spavor were arbitrarily arrested to put pressure on Ottawa and say they should be released without charge.

China has demanded Meng's immediate and unconditional release, saying the USA engineered her detention as part of a drive to contain China's growing rise. "I also want to thank our many, many worldwide partners for their solidarity and support", he added.

"The arbitrary detention of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor is a top priority for the Government of Canada and we continue to work tirelessly to secure their immediate release", said Garneau.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security advisor Jake Sullivan are now holding their first face-to-face talks with China's top diplomats in Anchorage.

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