Canadian Kevin Garratt is free, after two years in Chinese detention on spying charge

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 September, 2016, 7:13am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 September, 2016, 8:23pm

Kevin Garratt, a Canadian held in China for two years on suspicion of spying, has been freed and arrived in Vancouver on Thursday in a diplomatic triumph for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The Canadian leader had raised Garratt’s case during an official visit to China this month when he both pressed for closer economic ties and raised the issue of human rights, which is a sensitive matter in Beijing.

“On Thursday, September 15th, Kevin was deported from China and has returned to Canada to be with his family and friends,” the family said in a short statement that requested privacy.

A Canadian government official said Garratt had been formally sentenced earlier in the week and then released on bail. He then flew to Vancouver.

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“We are certainly delighted he has returned to Canada and started the healing process,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Garratt and his wife Julia were detained in August 2014 near China’s sensitive border with reclusive North Korea. Julia Garratt was later released on bail and left the country.

A source close to the case said Garratt had in fact been tried on April 20.

The release came as a surprise, since there were few signs of a breakthrough when Trudeau flew to China. Indeed, while he was still in Beijing, the Garratt family issued a statement expressing their frustration at the lack of progress.

The Garratt case had undermined efforts by both sides to boost economic ties. China wants a free trade deal with Canada but opinion polls show most Canadians are cool to the idea, in part because of Beijing’s human rights record.

Chinese premier Li Keqiang is due to pay an official visit to Canada from September 21-24.

The Garratt family statement thanked all those who had worked to secure his release and said it would release more information in the coming weeks.

Chinese state media said in January Garratt had been indicted in Dandong, a city in China’s northeast right on the border with North Korea, where the Garratts had operated a Christian coffee shop since 2008.

Chinese authorities had found evidence that Garratt worked with Canadian espionage agencies to gather intelligence in China, the media added.