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Canadian officials not granted permission to attend Michael Kovrig’s trial in China

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Canadian officials will not be granted permission to attend the trial of Michael Kovrig, who has been detained on espionage charges in China for more than two years.

In a statement emailed to Global News on Sunday, Global Affairs Canada (GAC) confirmed Canadian officials will not be in attendance at the trial set to begin on Monday.

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“According to the terms of our bilateral consular agreement, China is obligated to provide access to Canadian consular officials to the trials of Canadian citizens,” the statement read.

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Global Affairs Canada said the agency remains “deeply troubled by the lack of transparency surrounding these proceedings.”

“Canada is grateful to all who have joined in expressing concerns about China’s actions,” GAC said.

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In a previous interview with Global News, Kovrig’s wife, Vina Nadjibulla, said she will not travel to China for the trial both due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and because it will not be an open trial.

“If anything, this underscores the urgency of the issue and that we must do everything possible to bring them home,” she said.

“We’re running out of time. The process in China is moving ahead and this is incredibly, incredibly urgent at this stage.”

Read more: Trials for Canadians Kovrig, Spavor to begin in China this week

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Kovrig and another Canadian man, Michael Spavor, were arrested in China in 2018 on espionage charges, shortly after Huawei CEO Meng Wanzhou was detained by authorities in British Columbia on an extradition charge from the United States. The actions taken against the two Michaels are widely viewed as retaliation.

Both Huawei and Meng are facing dozens of charges related to allegations of corporate espionage and for breaching sanctions in Iran.

Meng is currently living in Vancouver while her hearing at a B.C. court continues.

Canadian officials and the country’s closest allies have denounced the charges against Kovrig and Spavor, calling them “arbitrary.”

Spavor’s trial last week ended without a verdict. It lasted just two hours, and Canadian officials were barred from attending.

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The federal government has repeatedly called on China to release the men.

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Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the detention of the two men is “completely unacceptable.”

“As is the lack of transparency around these court proceedings, our top priority remains securing their release (and) we will continue to work tirelessly to bring them home as soon as possible,” he said.

Trudeau said the government will continue to be in “close contact” with the families of the two men “during this difficult time.”

Read more: Two Michaels face ‘excruciating’ wait for Chinese verdict, says former detained Canadian

The federal government has also sought help from the U.S., whose Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan met face-to-face with top Chinese diplomats for the first time in Alaska on Thursday.

U.S. President Joe Biden has promised to help Canada secure Kovrig and Spavor’s release.

“Human beings are not bartering chips,” Biden told reporters on Feb. 23. “We’re going to work together until we get their safe return. Canada and the United States will stand together against abuse of universal rights and democratic freedom.”

However, neither Biden nor his administration have revealed any details on what kind of assistance the U.S. will provide.

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Prior to Kovrig’s detention, he served as a diplomat in China until 2016 and had been working for the International Crisis Group, a non-governmental agency. Spavor is a Canadian businessman and director of Paektu Cultural Exchange, an organization that promotes North Korean tourism and investment.

— With files from the Canadian Press

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