In a statement that's sure to enrage the Canadian government, China's top prosecutor said on Thursday that the two Canadian nationals detained in China last month on vague charges of "endangering national security" had "without a doubt" violated China's laws and would be prosecuted.
The arrests of former diplomat Michael Kovrig, who had been working in the country as an advisor with the International Crisis Group, and businessman Michael Spavor, who had helped arrange trips to North Korea on behalf of westerners, have been interpreted as retaliation for Canada's arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of the telecom giant's daughter, who was recently released on bail after being charged with misleading banks and violating US and EU sanctions on Iran. Meng was arrested at the behest of federal prosecutors in New York, according to Reuters.
Spavor and Kovrig
Ottawa has demanded that China release the men and furnish an explanation for their arrest, but Beijing has offered few details about the circumstances surrounding their detention. Meanwhile, Canadian diplomats have been allowed only limited access.
Recently, Reuters reported that Spavor was shown as "active" on Viber, an instant messaging app blocked in China, after his arrest, and that he was also shown as being active on Facebook and Instagram, suggesting that Chinese security personnel had infiltrated those accounts.
Yet though China insists the arrest of the two men has nothing to do with Meng's detention, it has continued to hold the men as an investigation into their conduct continues.
"Without a doubt, these two Canadian citizens in China violated our country’s laws and regulations, and are currently undergoing investigation according to procedure," Zhang Jun, China’s prosecutor general, said.
Under Chinese law, officials have much broader latitude to detain and interrogate suspects involved in national security cases, though, as Reuters pointed out, China's rule of law is often subordinated to the whims of the Communist Party.
Another Canadian national - a teacher - was recently deported from China after being detained on charges of working illegally in the country. Another Canadian citizen is facing a retrial on charges that he helped smuggle "an enormous amount" of drugs into China - a charge that typically carries a very harsh punishment, often including death.