Two Canadian men have been in separate prisons in China for more than 1,000 days. He was accused of espionage, forced to spend months without evidence and visiting diplomats. Despite global calls for his release, he awaits his conduct through China’s non-transparent legal system.
The men – Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat and Michael Spavor, a businessman – used to be relatively inconspicuous immigrants working in Asia. He has become a symbol of the repercussions of Beijing’s increasingly aggressive foreign policy, and his detention is widely seen as revenge for Meng Wangzhou’s arrest.
In August, a court in northeast China, where Mr. Spavor, sentenced to 11 years in prison after being found guilty of espionage. Mr Kovrig is waiting to be punished.
During his detention, Kovrig, who works for a non-profit organization, was held in a small prison cell in Beijing and repeatedly interrogated. He told his family that his diet was sometimes limited to steamed rice and vegetables while in captivity.
Chinese officials have kept Kovrig so isolated that he didn’t know the details of the coronavirus pandemic until October, his wife Vina Najibullah said as Canadian diplomats briefed him during a virtual visit.
“He is very tough, but his conditions are difficult to accept,” Najibullah said in an interview. “We are concerned about the charges that have been placed on his mental health.”
Mr. Spavor, a businessman, has a career in North Korea. He helped arrange a trip to North Korea for retired basketball player Mr. Rodman in 2013 and then for a second visit the following year. Mr. Company Spavor, the Patoo Cultural Exchange, published a photo in 2013 showing Mr. Spovor with North Korean guide Kim Jong-un on the cruise ship Mr. Kim.
In Canada, where the arrest of “Two Michaels” has been front-page news for months, the crisis has sparked widespread anger and highlighted the country’s weakness in the face of a growing superpower.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has repeatedly criticized the case from China and called for the release of Mr Kovrig and Mr Spavor.
Najibula said that Mr. Kovrig spent time in his cell, doing exercises and reading letters from family members. He also found solace in books such as Nelson Mandela’s autobiography The Long Road to Freedom.
While Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor received minimal contact with the outside world, Ms. Meng faced several such limitations. He was free to attend private drawing classes and shop before the pandemic allowed Chinese singers to attend concerts, though he had to carry a GPS tracker.