Beijing Threatens Jailed Canadians With Espionage Charges In Latest Retaliation For Huawei CFO's Arrest

Beijing has fired off its latest threatening message to Ottawa on Monday, just days after the Canadian Justice Ministry decided to allow extradition hearings for Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou to move forward.

With Meng set to make her first court appearance during the extradition proceedings later this week, two Chinese media reports published Monday claimed that jailed Canadian nationals Michael Kovrig - a former diplomat - and Michael Spavor - a businessman who arranged tours to North Korea - would face charges of spying on Beijing. Earlier, Chinese officials had said only that the two men faced charges related to threatening national security, which allowed Chinese authorities to immediately imprison the two men while an investigation was still underway.

Kovrig

The reports, which were summarized by the Financial Times, claimed that Spavor, who is being held in isolation in Liaoning, "provided intelligence to Kovrig and was an important intelligence contact of Kovrig." One Chinese media personality said the reports suggest that Kovrig was the primary target in the crackdown, and that he was responsible for stealing state secrets.

While the charges haven't been officially filed, the message to Ottawa is clear: Kovrig and Spavor could face the death penalty if found guilty, just like a third Canadian national who late last year saw his sentence for drug trafficking modified from a 15 year prison term to the death penalty.

Unlike Spavor and Kovrig, who have been kept in solitary confinement, denied books sent by friends and allowed only a single consular visit per month, Meng has been under house arrest in her sprawling Vancouver home.

Meng's extradition must now be decided by Canadian courts, a process that could take months or even years. Meanwhile, her lawyers have sued Canada over alleged civil-rights violations from when she was detained in Vancouver on Dec. 1.