Canadian diplomats are once again banished from the court in Beijing where Michael Covrig, a former Canadian diplomat, is on trial for alleged espionage.
Shortly after 9 am, the vice president of the Canadian Embassy in Beijing emerged from the small reception building in the court empty-handed. “Despite the international agreement signed by China, we will not be able to access,” Jim Nickel told reporters present, pushed by uniformed agents over and over again.
Canada has an agreement with the Chinese to provide consular assistance in any court case. “We were asked to enter the courtroom several times, but that was constantly refused,” Nickel said.
One court employee says there is a good reason for this. Sessions involving state secrets should not be publicly heard.
Covrig was arrested in December 2018. According to China, he has stolen state secrets, although the evidence has not yet been shared.
His arrest came after the chief financial officer of Huawei was arrested in Canada. Meng Wanzhou is suspected of violating US sanctions against Iran. According to prosecutors, she lied to banks about Huawei’s ties to the country. It has since been awaiting a possible extradition to the United States.
In addition to Kovrig, Michael Spavor has also been arrested. His case was filed on Friday, but it was adjourned after two hours. Either way, critics say it’s all about revenge for the arrest of the Huawei driver. Beijing denies this, but has indicated on several occasions that halting Huawei’s driver delivery process could provide room for a solution for Canadians. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said: “Canada must end the arbitrary detention of Ming Wanzhou and return her to China.”
Support from diplomats
Dozens of diplomats from at least twenty countries gathered at the court to show their support for the Canadians. In addition to the Canadian delegation, delegates from the United States, Australia and the European Union, among others, spoke at Gate 2 of Court No. 2 in the southern suburbs of Beijing. Two Dutch diplomats were also present. They also did not receive any information about the progress of the operation.
Just hours after the hearing began, the Canadian embassy received confirmation that Covrig was already present in court and the case had begun. “Arbitrary detention, the judicial process is not transparent. We are very concerned about that,” Nickel said.
US diplomat Bill Klein said, “The United States stands side by side with Canada and calls for the immediate release of the two arbitrarily detained civilians.”
10 years in prison
It remains unclear if and when the decision will be made. Several diplomats hinted that Beijing might want to wait until April, when the extradition case of Meng Wanzhou should be settled.
Michaels waits at least ten years in prison upon conviction. In extreme cases, this could amount to life in prison. The chance of acquittal is zero: In the Chinese legal system, more than 99 percent of suspects appearing at trial have already been convicted.