Blinken calls for 'immediate and unconditional' release of detained Canadians in China

Blinken calls for 'immediate and unconditional' release of detained Canadians in China
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Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenIsraeli official says plans to reopen US mission for Palestinians maybe shelved Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — Biden backtracks on Taiwan Nearly 200 Americans want to leave Afghanistan, State Department tells Congress MORE on Wednesday joined an international outcry condemning the Chinese government for the continued detention of two Canadian citizens and called for their immediate and unconditional release.

The statement by the secretary follows the sentencing by a Chinese court of Michael Spavor to 11 years in prison for espionage, 2 1/2 years after he was first detained.

Canada, joined by international partners including the U.S., has condemned the lack of transparency of the judicial process and restriction of any contact from diplomatic interlocutors.

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Blinken condemned the sentencing, saying Spavor and fellow detained Canadian citizen Michael Kavrog “have not received the minimal procedural protections during their more than two-and-a-half-year arbitrary detention.”  

“In my discussions with [People’s Republic of China] officials, I have raised several cases of both U.S. and Canadian citizens subject to arbitrary detentions and exit bans in China, and I strongly support the immediate and unconditional release of all those whom the People’s Republic of China has arbitrarily detained,” the secretary said.

Blinken further criticized the Chinese government for using the individuals as “bargaining chips.”

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

The Biden administration has been working in close consultation with Canada over efforts to release Spavor and Kavrog.

Their arrests in China in 2018 occurred shortly after Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Vancouver over allegations the company violated U.S. sanctions on Iran. Meng is undergoing trial in Canada over an extradition request to the U.S. 

The spokesperson for the diplomatic arm of the European Union condemned Spavor's sentencing and detention, saying his trial was held behind closed doors and was barred from appointing lawyers of his choice.

"The European Union has repeatedly urged China to abide by its international legal obligations to guarantee procedural fairness and due process of law for Mr. Spavor," the spokesperson said. "His right to a fair trial and due process, including the right to a public hearing, as guaranteed under international human rights law and China's Criminal Procedure Law, has not been upheld."

Canadian Prime Minister Justin TrudeauJustin Pierre James TrudeauCanada's Trudeau apologizes for vacation on first Truth and Reconciliation Day Unvaccinated Canadian government workers to be placed on unpaid leave Canada marks first 'National Day of Truth and Reconciliation' MORE called Spavor’s sentencing “absolutely unacceptable and unjust.”

Canadian Ambassador to the U.S. Kirsten Hillman told The Hill earlier that China’s arrest of the two men was an attempt by Beijing to drive a wedge between the North American allies.

Instead, she said, it has brought the two nations closer together against “hostage diplomacy” and “in defense of human rights and in defense of rule of law, not just with the United States but with numerous allies around the world,” she said.