China frees two Canadians following release of Huawei executive

China has freed two Canadian citizens after the U.S. struck a deal for the release of a Huawei executive.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a news conference Friday night that an aircraft carrying Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor left Chinese airspace headed for Canada.

The men boarded the plane around 7:30 p.m. Ottawa time with Dominic Carton, who is Canada’s ambassador to China.

The announcement came after the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it had dropped its extradition case against Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou.

Wanzhou was arrested by Canadian authorities in 2018 at the request of the United States on charges of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran.  

Kovrig and Spavor, known as the “two Michaels,” were arrested shortly after Wanzhou’s arrest in what appeared to be retaliation. Spavor was sentenced to 11 years in a Chinese prison in August.

The DOJ said Friday that it reached a deferred prosecution agreement with Wanzhou, allowing her to return home to China.

Trudea didn’t elaborate on how the release of the two men would affect Canada’s relationship with China going forward, saying that the priority was ensuring that they returned home safely.

The prime minister said that the two men have gone through “an unbelievably difficult” ordeal for the past two and half years.

“These two men have gone through an unbelievably difficult ordeal,” Trudeau said. “For the past thousand days, they have shown strength, perseverance, resilience and grace. And we are all inspired by that.”

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