As two Canadians mark 1,000 days in separate Chinese prisons, their supporters are marching Ottawa to push for their freedom.
Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were detained in in China in what critics labeled “hostage politics” after Canada arrested the chief financial officer of Chinese tech giant Huawei in 2018 on a U.S. extradition request.
The arrest of Meng Wanzhou infuriated Beijing which sees her case as a political move designed to prevent China’s rise. The U.S. accuses Huawei of using a Hong Kong shell company called Skycom to sell equipment to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions.
Kovrig, a Canadian diplomat on leave to an international organization, and Spavor, an entrepreneur, were arrested in apparent retaliation. Both have since been convicted of spying in closed Chinese courts — a process that Canada and dozens of allies say amounts to arbitrary detention.
The men’s relatives and supporters are pushing for some sort of political resolution that could bring them home. And they were marching Sunday to make their point.
The march was intended to replicate the 7,000 steps that Kovrig has tried to walk every day in his cramped jail cell to maintain his physical and mental well-being.
“It’s an extremely difficult milestone, but one that we want to mark in this way, in part, to honor the strength and resilience that Michael and Michael Spavor have shown,″ Kovrig’s wife Vina Nadjibulla said.
Spavor was sentenced to 11 years in prison on national security charges. The government has released few details other than to accuse Spavor of passing along sensitive information to Kovrig. Both have been held in isolation and have had little contact with Canadian diplomats.
"We worry about him but we find strength from all the support we get,” said Paul Spavor, his brother.
Three Canadians convicted in separate drug cases were sentenced to death in 2019. In one, Robert Schellenberg had received a 15-year sentence initially that was abruptly increased to death in January 2019 following Meng’s arrest.
Canada and other countries face trade boycotts and other Chinese pressure in disputes with Beijing over human rights, the coronavirus and control of the South China Sea. The United States has warned American travelers face a “heightened risk of arbitrary detention” in China for reasons other than to enforce laws.
China has tried to pressure Trudeau’s government by imposing restrictions on imports of canola seed oil and other products from Canada