(Correction: adds “not” (allowed to attend) and “two” dozen in par two)
Beijing, Mar 22 (efe-epa).- The trial of Canadian citizen Michael Kovrig, arrested in China in December 2018 and charged with espionage, began in Beijing on Monday.
Outside the court were diplomats from Canada and about two dozen other countries, who were not allowed to attend the closed-door proceedings.
“We’ve requested access to Michael Kovrig’s hearing repeatedly but that access is being denied,” Jim Nickel, charge d’affairs at the Canadian Embassy, told dozens of reporters gathered outside Beijing No. 2 People’s Intermediate Court, where the trial is being held.
“The reason that has been given to us, why we’re being denied access, is because this is a so-called national security case and therefore (it) is a closed courtroom,” he added.
About 28 diplomats from 26 countries arrived at the court an hour before the 9 am start of the trial but were forced to remain outside, along with the media.
The espionage trial of another Canadian national, Michael Spavor, was held at Dandong Intermediate People’s Court on Friday.
His trial, which was also held behind closed doors, took less than three hours and ended without a verdict. The court said this will be announced at a later date.
However, diplomats told Efe that Kovrig’s trial is expected to take longer as it more complex.
On Friday, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said “their arbitrary detention is completely unacceptable, as is the lack of transparency around these court proceedings.”
In June 2020, China accused businessman Spavor of “spying on state secrets and illegally providing them to overseas forces” and Kovrig of “spying on state secrets and intelligence,” according to the state People’s Daily news outlet.
The two Canadians were detained shortly after the arrest in Canada of Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of the Huawei founder and the company’s Chief Financial Officer, at the request of the United States.
Beijing says the detentions of the Canadians are not linked to the arrest of Meng.
She was arrested during a layover in Canada on a trip to Mexico after Washington requested her extradition for allegedly violating US sanctions on Iran.
The extradition proceedings are currently underway in the Supreme Court of British Columbia on Canada’s Pacific coast.
Meng, whose release has been repeatedly demanded by Beijing, is out on bail but is not allowed to leave Canada. She is living with her family in one of the two mansions she owns in Vancouver.
Meanwhile, the two Michaels, as they are popularly known, have been held in isolation in cells with the lights on 24 hours a day for over two years and with restricted visits by Canadian consular officials, according to the US media reports.
At the time of his arrest, Kovrig, a former diplomat, was in China working for the nonprofit International Crisis Group, which China said then was not registered according to its laws.
Spavor is the founder of a company that specializes in tours to North Korea. EFE-EPA