China begins secret ‘espionage’ trial of former Canadian diplomat

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China’s President Xi Jinping gives a speech at the opening session of the Chinese Communist Party’s five-yearly Congress

The espionage trial of former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig began Monday behind closed doors in a Beijing courtroom.

Kovrig’s trial comes less than a week after it opened proceedings against his compatriot Michael Spavor.

Kovrig’s trial which opened on Monday behind closed doors in Beijing witnessed diplomats from more than two dozen countries, including Germany, attempt in vain to gain access to the proceedings.

Many legal observers said the pair were pawns caught in a fight between Washington and Beijing.

Kovrig and Spavor, whose trial opened on Friday, were arrested in December 2018 following the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of the Chinese telecom giant Huawei, in Canada at the instigation of U.S. authorities.

Some diplomats see the case as a “retaliation” for Meng’s arrest and accuse Beijing of “hostage diplomacy.”

The Charge d’affaires at the Canandian embassy in Beijing, Jim Nickel, said Kovrig had been “arbitrarily detained.”

“And now we see that the court process itself is not transparent. We are very troubled by this,” Nickel added.

“The reason that has been given to us while we are being denied access to our citizen facing trial is that this is a so-called national security case and therefore it is a closed case, a closed court room.”

At the time of his arrest, Kovrig was working as an expert for the International Crisis Group think-tank in China.

Spavor, whose trial opened in the north-eastern Chinese city of Dandong last week, ran a cultural exchange company with North Korea in China.

Both defendants face long prison terms if convicted.