December 21, 2018 3:07 pm
Updated: December 21, 2018 10:38 pm

Canada demands ‘immediate release’ of Canadians ‘arbitrarily’ detained in China

WATCH: Trudeau defends deescalating China situation to bring Canadians home

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Canada’s foreign affairs minister is calling on China to immediately free two Canadians she says are being “arbitrarily” detained in the country.

“We are deeply concerned by the arbitrary detention by Chinese authorities of two Canadians earlier this month and call for their immediate release,” Chrystia Freeland said in the Canadian government’s strongest statement since the arrest of a Chinese tech executive in Vancouver triggered a diplomatic spat.

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“I wish to express Canada’s appreciation to those who have spoken recently in support of the rule of law as fundamental to free societies,” she added.

READ MORE: Chinese official slams Huawei exec’s arrest in response to question about Canadian detentions

Freeland also told the Chinese ambassador Friday that Canada is asking for release of the two men, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

Both the U.S. and U.K. expressed support for Canada on the detainee issue and the country’s handling of the case of Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer.

WATCH: China denies ‘slanderous’ spying charges by U.S., Canada and other countries

Meng, the 46-year-old daughter of the Chinese smartphone giant’s founder, was arrested in Vancouver on Dec. 1 on behalf of the U.S., where she is wanted in a fraud investigation. She faces possible extradition to the country.

The U.S. State Department called for the Canadians’ release and expressed “deep concern” over the detentions.

“We share Canada’s commitment to the rule of law as fundamental to all free societies, and we will defend and uphold this principle,” the agency said in a statement.

READ MORE: Between 2 superpowers: What’s happened so far in the Canada-China-Huawei spat?

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the U.K. has confidence Canada is conducting “a fair and transparent legal proceeding” with regards to Meng.

“I am deeply concerned by suggestions of a political motivation for the detention of two Canadian citizens by the Chinese government,” he said in a statement.

Both Canadians — Kovrig, a former diplomat, and Spavor, a businessman — are being detained on suspicion of endangering Chinese national security. A third Canadian was detained in China on what’s believed to be a visa issue.

WATCH: Growing concerns over three Canadians detained in China

The EU has also recently spoken out about the arrests, saying China’s declared motive “raises concerns about legitimate research and business practices” in the country.

“The denial of access to a lawyer under their status of detention is contrary to the right of defence,” an EU foreign affairs spokesperson said in a statement.

READ MORE: EU calls for access to legal representation for Canadians detained in China

WATCH: Canadians detained in China ‘unlawful’ and ‘unacceptable’: Pompeo

Global News has reached out to several other nations for comment on the matter, but thus far has only received a response from Germany, which declined comment.

Both Canadians have been granted consular access, though a Bloomberg report says Kovrig is not able to see a lawyer or turn off the lights in the detention centre where he is being held.

When asked about how the Canadians are being treated in custody, China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman brought up the case of the Huawei executive.

READ MORE: China is holding Michael Kovrig in a place where he can’t turn off the light or see a lawyer: reports

“We have already said that China has in accordance with the law guaranteed Michael Kovrig’s lawful rights and humanitarian treatment,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.

“I don’t know whether you paid attention to the treatment or the human rights of the Chinese citizen who was illegally detained in Canada at the request of the United States?” she then retorted, referring to Huawei’s Meng.

Meng, who says she is innocent, is currently out on bail in Vancouver.

U.S. prosecutors accuse her of misleading multinational banks about Iran-linked transactions, putting the banks at risk of violating U.S. sanctions.

WATCH: Ottawa demands China release two detained Canadian men

With files from Abigail Bimman and Maham Abedi, Global News, and Reuters

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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