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Canadian Michael Spavor sentenced to 11 years in Chinese prison for espionage

Click to play video: 'Spavor eager to return home after China sentences Canadian to prison, orders deportation' Spavor eager to return home after China sentences Canadian to prison, orders deportation
WATCH ABOVE: Questions remain about the fate of Canadian Michael Spavor, who was detained by China in 2018 and sentenced to 11 years in prison. As Abigail Bimman explains, Spavor also faces deportation, which likely depends on how the case of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou goes. – Aug 11, 2021

China’s conviction and sentencing of Canadian Michael Spavor is “absolutely unacceptable and unjust,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.

Spavor, an entrepreneur who was detained by Chinese authorities in 2018, was convicted of espionage by a Chinese court and sentenced to 11 years in prison on Wednesday.

“Today’s verdict for Mr. Spavor comes after more than two and a half years of arbitrary detention, a lack of transparency in the legal process, and a trial that did not satisfy even the minimum standards required by international law,” Trudeau said in a statement on Wednesday.

Read more: Garneau unsure when Michael Kovrig verdict will come as China sentences 2 Canadians

Click to play video: 'Canada’s Michael Spavor sentenced to 11 years in prison by Chinese court' Canada’s Michael Spavor sentenced to 11 years in prison by Chinese court
Canada’s Michael Spavor sentenced to 11 years in prison by Chinese court – Aug 11, 2021

China’s Dandong Intermediate Court said Spavor will be deported, but it was not clear when, based on a statement on the court’s website. The court also said 50,000 yuan ($9,600) of Spavor’s personal assets will be confiscated.

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Espionage is punishable in China by life in prison with a minimum sentence of 10 years.

Spavor, along with Michael Kovrig, was detained in China in December 2018 in apparent retaliation for the arrest days earlier of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver by RCMP at the behest of American authorities.

“For Mr. Spavor, as well as for Michael Kovrig who has also been arbitrarily detained, our top priority remains securing their immediate release. We will continue working around the clock to bring them home as soon as possible,” Trudeau added.

The U.S. is seeking Meng’s extradition after charging her with violating sanctions on doing business with Iran and other counts of corporate espionage. Meng and Huawei, along with Beijing, have denied any allegations of wrongdoing.

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Click to play video: 'How are China-Canada relations affected by the Schellenberg decision?' How are China-Canada relations affected by the Schellenberg decision?
How are China-Canada relations affected by the Schellenberg decision? – Aug 10, 2021

The two Michaels were charged with espionage in June 2019.

While China has denied that Kovrig and Spavor’s arrests were a retaliatory measure, officials had suggested that the pair could be released if Meng is allowed to return home to China and the case against her is dropped. Canada has refused to entertain such an exchange.

Kovrig and Spavor both faced closed-door trials over spying charges in March that ended without verdicts. Canadian officials were barred from attending both trials.

Read more: ‘Not a coincidence’: China has tied fates of detained Canadians to Meng case, experts warn

Click to play video: 'White House refers questions on Michael Spavor’s sentencing in China to State Department' White House refers questions on Michael Spavor’s sentencing in China to State Department
White House refers questions on Michael Spavor’s sentencing in China to State Department – Aug 11, 2021

As of Tuesday, there was no word on a decision for Kovrig.

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“While we disagree with the charges, we realize that this is the next step in the process to bring Michael home, and we will continue to support him through this challenging time,” Spavor’s family said in a statement.

“Michael’s life passion has been to bring different cultures together through tourism and events shared between the Korean peninsula and other countries including China and Canada,” Spavor’s family added. “This situation has not dampened, but strengthened his passion.”

Spavor had three messages that he asked to be shared with the world following his verdict, said Canada’s ambassador to China, Dominic Barton, who visited him at a detention centre after the decision: “Thank you for all your support,” “I am in good spirits,” and “I want to get home.”

Click to play video: 'Foreign minister strongly condemns sentencing of Canadian Michael Spavor in Chinese court' Foreign minister strongly condemns sentencing of Canadian Michael Spavor in Chinese court
Foreign minister strongly condemns sentencing of Canadian Michael Spavor in Chinese court – Aug 11, 2021

Read more: Chinese court upholds death sentence for Robert Schellenberg in drug smuggling case

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement the United States stands with international community in calling for China to release Spavor and Kovrig.

“We continue to condemn these arbitrary detentions as well as the sentence imposed against Mr. Spavor on August 10. Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig have not received the minimal procedural protections during their more than two-and-a-half-year arbitrary detention, and we stand with more than 60 countries who endorsed the recent Declaration Against Arbitrary Detention in State-to-State Relations,” he said.

“The practice of arbitrarily detaining individuals to exercise leverage over foreign governments is completely unacceptable. People should never be used as bargaining chips.”

The verdict comes a day after a Chinese court rejected the appeal in the case of another Canadian, Robert Schellenberg, upholding his death penalty sentence. Canada strongly condemned the “arbitrary” decision by China.

Schellenberg was detained by Chinese authorities in December 2014 and was formally charged with drug smuggling in January 2015. His initial 15-year verdict on drug smuggling charges was overturned and a death sentence was issued in January 2019 following a retrial.

After Monday’s appeal, the Higher People’s Court of Liaoning Province said the sentence was appropriate and the lower court’s procedures were legal. It sent the case to China’s supreme court for review.

The detentions have soured relations between Canada and China.

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Click to play video: 'Calls grow to boycott 2022 Beijing Olympics' Calls grow to boycott 2022 Beijing Olympics
Calls grow to boycott 2022 Beijing Olympics – Aug 9, 2021

On Tuesday, Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole urged Canada to consider boycotting the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

“I know how hard our athletes are training for Beijing, but we are approaching a point where it won’t be safe for Canadians, including Olympic athletes, to travel to China,” O’Toole said.

Speaking to reporters on Monday night, Canada’s Ambassador to China said China’s decision to move forward with verdicts in two court cases involving Canadians this week is no coincidence.

“It is not a coincidence that these are happening right now, while the case is going on in Vancouver,” Dominic Barton told reporters.

Click to play video: 'Meng Wanzhou’s lawyers call for stay in proceedings' Meng Wanzhou’s lawyers call for stay in proceedings
Meng Wanzhou’s lawyers call for stay in proceedings – Aug 10, 2021

Ahead of the decision on Tuesday, a former Canadian ambassador to China said Beijing wants to press Ottawa to free Meng by giving Spavor a “very harsh sentence.”

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“The Chinese government has indicated that there would be no progress as long as Ms. Meng is in Canada,” said Guy Saint-Jaques in an interview with Global News.

— with files from Global News’ Rachel Gilmore, Reuters and The Associated Press

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