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China charges Canadians with spying, 18 months after arrest

Canadians Michael Spavor (L) and Michael Kovrig have been formally charged with spying in China. (Photo by AFP)

China has formally charged two Canadians with spying, more than 18 months after they were arrested in a spat between Beijing and Ottawa, officials said Friday.

The pair were detained shortly after Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada on a US warrant, in what is widely believed to have been a retaliatory move from China.

The Supreme People's Procuratorate said it has begun proceedings in the prosecution of ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor, who were "suspected of foreign espionage" and "providing state secrets".

The move comes just weeks after a key ruling in the Meng case where a Canadian judge ruled that proceedings to extradite her to the United States would go ahead as scheduled.

The United States wants Meng extradited to face trial on charges related to the Chinese telecom equipment maker's alleged violations of US sanctions against Iran.

Diplomatic relations between Canada and China have hit rock bottom over the arrests, damaging trade between the countries.

China's Embassy in Ottawa accused the United States of trying "to bring down Huawei".

China has also blocked billions of dollars' worth of Canadian agricultural exports.

The arrests of Kovrig and Spavor nine days after Meng was taken into custody have been widely decried as (being retaliatory).

While the eldest daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei has been out on bail and living in a mansion in Vancouver, the two Canadians remain in China's opaque penal system.

Monthly consular visits for Kovrig and Spavor had been suspended since the coronavirus outbreak started in China, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in April, amid concerns over their well-being.

China's foreign ministry has insisted the pair are in good health, and that their detention facility was "in a region that is not particularly affected by COVID-19".

However, people familiar with the matter have told AFP the two have endured hours of interrogation and in the first six months of detention were forced to sleep with the lights on.

(Source: AFP) 

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