In response to China’s harsh sentencing of Canadian businessman Michael Spavor, the United States and the international community issued a chorus of condemnation.
Spavor’s 11-year prison sentence, handed down by a Chinese court on August 11, was immediately condemned by Canada, as well as representatives from the United States and 24 other countries who attended a news conference at the Canadian Embassy in Beijing in solidarity.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau slammed Spavor’s sentence, calling it “absolutely unacceptable and unjust.”
Officials from around the world issued additional statements condemning the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) actions, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging the CCP to release Spavor and another Canadian, Michael Kovrig, “immediately and unconditionally.”
People should never be used as a negotiating tool. ”
Spavor and Kovrig were arrested and charged with espionage in China in December 2018. Their arrests came just days after Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou was apprehended at Vancouver International Airport on an extradition warrant from the United States.
Meng is accused of being involved in a scheme to circumvent US sanctions against Iran by using the global banking system. The arrests of the two men were widely interpreted as a tit-for-tat response by the CCP to her arrest.
Other US officials spoke out against Spavor’s sentence, with Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, calling it a “clear political move” and “despicable.”
“No internationally respected government detains foreign nationals arbitrarily,” he said, demanding the release of Spavor and Kovrig.
Ami Bera (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Foreign Subcommittee on Asia, condemned the CCP’s sentencing of Spavor and urged the CCP to “cease its use of hostage diplomacy.”
In statements, Trudeau and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said they discussed Spavor’s sentencing and agreed to work together to combat arbitrary detention. They both condemned the death penalty imposed on Canadian citizen Robert Schellenberg, which was recently upheld by a Chinese court.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Canada accused Canada of “ganging up” with other Western countries to “put pressure on China,” which it called “totally futile.”
Meanwhile, Melita Gabric, the European Union’s ambassador to Canada, issued a statement urging China to “respect its international legal obligations.”
“Arbitrary detentions violate [human rights] and the independence of the judiciary,” she said, adding that the EU has “stood shoulder to shoulder with Canada” in the effort to secure the release of Spavor and Kovrig.
In a brief statement, the British High Commissioner to Canada expressed his country’s solidarity.
Separately, the German Foreign Office issued a similar statement. Heiko Maas, Germany’s Foreign Minister, also stated that Spavor’s rights were “restricted in violation of international law,” and that his trial was “held behind closed doors.”
Spavor was charged with espionage in China in June 2019. A one-day trial concluded in March, and the Chinese court did not issue its verdict until August 11th.
The sentence was handed down just one day after lawyers for Canada’s attorney general argued in a Canadian court against a request to postpone Meng’s extradition to the United States to face criminal charges.
In a statement, France’s Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs said it was “dismayed” to learn of Spavor’s sentencing and Schellenberg’s upheld death sentence, and it “strongly denounces the arbitrary nature of these verdicts.”
Meanwhile, Annika Ben David, Sweden’s ambassador-at-large for human rights, democracy, and the rule of law, has called for the restoration of Spavor and Schellenberg’s human rights. “[Human rights] obligations, such as the right to a fair trial [and] the right to life,” she said in a statement.
Australia and New Zealand have both condemned the latest developments involving Spavor and Schellenberg.
The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade issued a statement saying, “We call for due process and transparency, and we oppose the death penalty in all circumstances.”
“Aotearoa New Zealand shares Canada’s deep concerns and will continue to closely monitor this and similar cases.” According to a statement from New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, “we call for international law and norms to be respected, including human rights and the Vienna Conventions.”