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China awards prison term, death to Canadians as Huawei CFO fights US extradition in Canada

The verdicts by two separate Chinese courts have triggered a huge backlash from Canada, with PM Justin Trudeau calling the judgment "unacceptable and unjust” and US coming out in support.

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New Delhi: In a move that is likely to deteriorate ties between China and Canada, a Chinese court Tuesday sentenced Canadian Michael Spavor — convicted of spying for a foreign entity and illegally providing state secrets — to 11 years in prison. He is likely to be deported after he completes his sentence.

Spavor’s sentencing came a day after a different Chinese court confirmed the death sentence for another Canadian, Robert Schellenberg, on charges of drug smuggling. Schellenberg was first arrested in 2014 and sentenced to 15 years in prison in November 2018. A year later, in January 2019, however, the court changed the sentence and awarded him the death penalty instead.

The verdict against Spavor triggered a huge backlash from the Canadian government with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calling the judgment “absolutely unacceptable and unjust” and demanding Spavor’s immediate release.

“The verdict for Mr. Spavor comes after more than two and a half years of arbitrary detention, a lack of transparency in the legal process, and a trial that did not satisfy even the minimum standards required by international law”, he said in a statement issued Friday.

Spavour, a Canadian entrepreneur, and former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig were arrested in China days after Meng Wanzhou, Chief Financial Officer of Huawei, was detained in Vancouver in December 2018, at the request of the US government, who claimed that she lied to banks in Hong Kong regarding her company’s dealings with Iran that may have violated US trade sanctions.

While the trial of Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat detained on charges of espionage in 2018, was completed in March, it is still not clear when the court will declare a verdict in his case.

The verdicts against Spavour and Schellenberg were announced as Meng attempted on Monday to make the Canadian court reject a US extradition request. The Chinese government has dismissed any connections between the cases but has warned of unspecified consequences unless Meng was released.

Also read: Two Karachi comedians now mock Western bloggers who told the world Pakistan is beautiful

Political leaders, human rights activists condemn sentencing

Trudeau also brought up the issue of the Canadians’ sentencing in China during his meeting with President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, Thursday.

In a statement issued later, he said both the leaders “express their strong opposition to the decisions by Chinese courts to uphold a death sentence against Robert Schellenberg, and to convict and sentence Michael Spavor and that they will keep working together against arbitrary detention”.

Several Canadian ministers, the country’s allies, and human rights activists too condemned the move and demanded the unconditional release of Kovrig and Spavor.

Candian Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau also issued a statement Wednesday saying, “Canada strongly condemns China’s decision to uphold the death penalty sentence against Robert Schellenberg”.

Addressing the media on the same day, Garneau said, “We don’t know when the verdict will be rendered regarding Michael Kovrig. We are waiting to see. We know that his trial was supposed to happen shortly after Michael Spavor, but it’s the Chinese authorities that will decide when.”

The US too has come out in support of Canada and condemned the move against Spavor and Kovrig. The United States embassy in Beijing called the proceeding an attempt to “use human beings as bargaining leverage”.

The US Department of State also issued a statement Wednesday, stating that the country stood with “the international community in calling for the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to release, immediately and unconditionally, Canadian citizens Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig”.

Also read: Chinese papers remove ‘alleged’ Swiss biologist’s comments on Covid origin after embassy fumes


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