March 19 (UPI) -- A Chinese court said it tried behind closed doors on Friday one of two Canadian citizens facing espionage charges after being detained by the Asian nation in late 2018, stating the verdict will be announced at a later date.
In a brief statement, the Liaoning Dandong Intermediate People's Court, near China's southern border with North Korea, said Michael Spavor and his defense lawyers appeared in court Friday where he was tried "for spying overseas and illegally providing state secrets."
Spavor is one of two Canadians along with Michael Kovrig who were arrested in China within weeks of Canadian authorities detaining Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei, on Dec. 1, 2018, at the request of the United States, which had issued a warrant for her arrest on allegations of bank fraud and violating trade sanctions imposed on Iran.
The trial, which began at 10 a.m., was closed to the public, it said, leaving diplomats from various countries and media waiting outside the courthouse.
Jim Nickel, Canada's charge d'affaires in China, said in a statement afterward that "[W]e are deeply troubled by the lack of transparency surrounding these proceedings," The New York Times reported.
Marc Garneau, Canada's minister of foreign affairs, said in a statement Wednesday that he had been informed that Spavor was scheduled to be tried on Friday and Kovrig, an International Crisis Group senior advisor for Asia, on Monday, calling their detentions "arbitrary."
"Canadian officials are seeking continued consular access to Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig, in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and the China-Canada Consular Agreement, and have also requested to attend the proceedings," Garneau said, adding he remains "deeply troubled over the lack of transparency."
A spokesperson from the Chinese Embassy in Canada on Friday lashed out at Garneau's characterization of the trial as lacking transparency and their detentions as arbitrary, calling it "fact-distorting" as China's judicial authorities "have been dealing with the cases independently and ensuring their lawful rights."
"When it comes to arbitrary detention, Ms. Meng Wanzhou has been arbitrarily detained for over two years despite the fact she hasn't violated any Canadian law," the spokesperson said in a statement. "This is arbitrary detention in every sense of the term."
The arrests of the two Canadians have been widely seen as ploys to gain leverage to secure Meng's release. In June, China's foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters if Canada ceases Meng's extradition process it "could open up space for resolution to the situation of the two Canadians."
"We're going to work together until we get their safe return," the president said.
Ahead of Monday's trial, Richard Atwood, interim president of International Crisis Group, described Kovrig's case as political and that he was disappointed a court date had been arranged.
"After 830 days imprisoned, Michael should be released immediately so he can return home to his loved ones," he said in a statement.
Safeguard Defenders, a human rights NGO that promotes the rule of law in Asia, released a report last week stating the probability of a guilty verdict in their cases was almost guaranteed.
"Once an arrest is approved, it is almost certain (92.08%) that the suspect will be brought to trial, at which point he or she will have a 99.95-99.96% chance of being found guilty," its report titled Presumed Guilty said.