Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat who worked for the International Crisis Group (ICG), is accused by the Chinese authorities of “stealing sensitive information and intelligence through contacts in China since 2017,” while Spavor, a businessman with a focus on North Korea, is accused of providing intelligence to Kovrig.
Spavor’s trial took place as US and Chinese officials were trading barbs at the opening of a diplomatic summit in Alaska, the first time the countries’ top diplomats have met since US President Joe Biden took office.
Both Washington and Ottawa have repeatedly called for Kovrig and Spavor’s release, denouncing their detention as political and arbitrary.
“Michael Kovrig has been detained for two years now, he’s been arbitrarily detained, and now we see the court process itself is not transparent, and we’re very troubled by this,” he said, adding that access had been denied because “this is a so-called national security case.”
Nickel thanked other diplomats for showing solidarity with Canada. He said there were some 28 representatives from 26 different countries outside the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate Court on Monday, “lending their voice for the immediate release of Michael Kovrig.”
Reuters listed the US, United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, Netherlands and Czech Republic as among the countries with diplomatic representation outside the court.
Those diplomats and journalists were met by a large police presence. Repeated attempts by the diplomats to enter the building before the trial got underway were rebuffed, according to reporters at the scene.
Following Spavor’s speedy trial Friday, the court in Dandong said in a statement that it would “deliver its verdict at a later date in accordance with the law.”
After Kovrig and Spavor were charged with espionage last 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.”
Chinese courts have a conviction rate of more than 99% and observers say the release of the two men could now rest on a diplomatic solution, potentially after a face-saving conviction and sentence of time served.