China has put on trial one of two Canadians held for more than two years in apparent retaliation over Canada’s arrest of a senior Huawei executive.
Canadian officials said consular officials were refused permission to attend the proceedings against Michael Spavor, who is accused by China of stealing state secrets.
Jim Nickel, the Canadian Embassy’s deputy chief of mission, said the hearing ended at noon Friday after two hours.
No verdict has been announced.
Mr Nickel declined to give other details, citing rules on protecting Spavor’s privacy.
In a statement posted on its website, the Intermediate People’s Court of Dandong in the north-eastern province of Liaoning Province said it had held a closed-door hearing against Spavor on charges of spying and illegally sending state secrets abroad.
It said Spavor and his defence lawyers were present for the proceedings and the court would pronounce a sentence at a date “determined in accordance with law”.
Fellow Canadian Michael Kovrig is due to go before a court on Monday.
The two were detained in December 2018, days after Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was arrested at the request of the US at the airport in Vancouver. Both are charged with spying.
The entrance to the courthouse beside the Yalu River that divides China from North Korea was roped off with police tape and journalists were kept outside, although not detained or told to leave, as often occurs during sensitive legal cases.
Earlier, Mr Nickel had knocked on a court door seeking entry but was refused. Another 10 diplomats from eight countries, including the US, UK and Australia, stood on the street opposite the courthouse in a show of support.
International and bilateral treaties required that China provide Canadian diplomats access to the trial, but the court said Chinese law regarding trials on state security charges overrode such obligations, Mr Nickel said.
Spavor and Kovrig were detained in December 2018, days after Meng was arrested at the request of the US at the airport in Vancouver, British Columbia.
The US is seeking her extradition to face fraud charges related to the Chinese telecom giant’s dealings with Iran, which is under American financial sanctions.
The two Canadians have been held ever since, while Meng has been released on bail.
They were charged in June 2020 with spying under China’s broadly-defined national security laws.
Spavor, an entrepreneur with North Korea-related business, was charged with spying for a foreign entity and illegally procuring state secrets.
Kovrig, an analyst and former diplomat, was charged with illegally receiving state secrets and intelligence in collaboration with Spavor.
Meng’s case has infuriated China’s government, which has promoted Huawei as a global leader in mobile communications technology.
China has demanded Meng’s immediate and unconditional release, saying the US engineered her detention as part of a drive to contain China’s growing rise.
Canadian authorities say Kovrig and Spavor were arbitrarily arrested to put pressure on Ottawa and say they should be released without charge.
China has also restricted various Canadian exports, including canola oil seed, and handed death sentences to another four Canadians convicted of drug smuggling.
Outside the courthouse, Mr Nickel said Canada still held hope that Spavor and Kovrig could be released through joint efforts with the US, whose secretary of state Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan are currently holding their first face-to-face talks with China’s top diplomats in Anchorage, Alaska.
“So we’re hopeful that, in some measure, this trial may too lead to their immediate release,” Mr Nickel said.
In Canada, Spavor’s family issued a statement saying he had been granted “very limited access and interaction with his retained Chinese defence counsel”, according to Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail.
“At this time, we feel it is necessary to speak out and call for his unconditional release. His continued unjust detention depriving him of his liberty is both unfair and unreasonable, especially given the lack of transparency in the case,” the newspaper quoted the statement as saying.