China denies detained Canadian ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig access to a lawyer

  • International Crisis Group says ‘the unfortunate reality’ is that its employee has been unable to receive legal advice since being taken into custody 11 days ago
  • China’s foreign ministry says Kovrig’s lawful rights and humanitarian treatment are guaranteed in accordance with the law
PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 December, 2018, 1:56pm
UPDATED : Friday, 21 December, 2018, 11:26pm

Concerns are growing for the former Canadian diplomat detained in China after it emerged that he had not been given access to a lawyer.

Michael Kovrig, currently working as a senior adviser for Crisis Group, a non-governmental organisation, was detained by the Chinese authorities on December 10 accused of activities that endangered Chinese state security.

Another Canadian, Michael Spavor, a businessman based in the city of Dandong on the border with North Korea, was also detained over similar allegations.

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Robert Malley, president of International Crisis Group, said Kovrig had not been allowed to see a lawyer.

“That is the unfortunate bottom line,” he said this week. “At this point, all of our energy is focused on getting Michael out, reuniting him with his family. We want to make sure he gets out safely, and soon.”

The detention of Kovrig and Spavor were seen as a retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou at the request of the US.

Meng, who is accused of fraud related to an alleged breach of US sanctions on Iran, has since been released on bail.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Friday that the details of Kovrig’s detention and treatment needed to be checked, and referred questions to the “relevant authorities”, Reuters reported.

The Ministry of State Security, which is leading the investigation into the former diplomat, has no publicly available contact details.

“We have already said that China has in accordance with the law guaranteed Michael Kovrig’s lawful rights and humanitarian treatment,” Hua told a daily news briefing.

Canada had been provided with the “necessary help” to provide consular access, she said.

“I don’t know whether you paid attention to the treatment or the human rights of the Chinese citizen who was illegally detained in Canada at the request of the United States?” Hua said, referring to Huawei’s Meng.

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On Thursday, China said a third Canadian citizen Sarah Mclver had been detained, but added that it was related to charges of working illegally as a teacher.

Sources familiar with Kovrig’s case said he had been stopped in the street in Beijing and taken away at about 10pm on December 10, according to Reuters.

China formally notified the Canadian government of Kovrig’s detention at 4pm on December 12.

Canada only gained consular access to him at a police station on Friday last week, when he was visited for half an hour by the Canadian ambassador and two other Canadian diplomats, the sources said.

He was not allowed to apply for bail or to see a lawyer, said one source, adding that Kovrig was being questioned every morning, afternoon and evening, not allowed to turn the lights off at night, and is being held at an undisclosed location.

He was also only allowed one consular visit a month and not allowed to see family or loved ones, the person said.

Kovrig was physically all right but tired and stressed, and did not appear to have been mistreated, the source said.

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A third person said Kovrig was being confined to a single room, but despite the stress remained lucid.

Kovrig also holds Hungarian citizenship, according to another report by Reuters.

The European Union did not directly comment on the Hungarian citizenship, but said the detention of Kovrig and Spavor had triggered concerns in Europe about legitimate research and business practices in China.

“The denial of access to a lawyer under their status of detention is contrary to the right of defence. The EU fully supports the efforts of the Canadian Government on this matter,” an EU spokesman said in a statement.

On Thursday, representatives of six German policy institutes also expressed “deep concern” about the detentions.

“Developments such as these increase uncertainty and distrust among foreign scholars who regularly conduct research within China, as they fear for their safety. This will clearly undermine efforts to better understand developments in China and to further constructive relations between China and other countries,” they said in a statement.

The institutes include the German Marshall Fund, Global Public Policy Institute, Mercator Institute for China Studies, European Council on Foreign Relations, German Institute for International and Security Affairs and the German Council for Foreign Relations.

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China’s criminal law states that in cases involving state security, defence lawyers must obtain the approval of investigating organs before they are allowed to meet suspects.

Amnesty International East Asia Research Director Joshua Rosenzweig said that although denying suspects access to a lawyer was not necessarily a violation of Chinese law, it was a serious cause for concern.

“The exception in the Criminal Procedure Law allowing authorities to deny access to defence lawyers in national security cases is also contrary to the rights to fair trial guaranteed under international law,” he said.

“[It’s] a big problem and we shouldn’t simply accept it. Access to a lawyer is one of the guarantees against torture or other ill-treatment in custody.”