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Kevin Garratt, Julia Dawn Garratt, Hannah Garratt and Simeon Garratt are shown in an undated handout photo. Kevin and Julia Garratt, Christians who first moved to China 30 years ago, are under ‘residential surveillance’ by China’s powerful State Security Bureau.GARRATT FAMILY/The Canadian Press

A Canadian couple detained by Chinese authorities were spies disguised as "ordinary citizens," according to new information published by China's state media.

Kevin and Julia Garratt have been accused of stealing Chinese military and national defence research secrets. They were detained Aug. 4, but not formally arrested, and China has offered little information on what they are accused of doing. The Christian couple ran a coffee shop near the border with North Korea, worked to bring humanitarian aid into that secretive country and worked to train North Korean Christians inside China.

Their detention by China's State Security Bureau has been seen by Canadian authorities as reprisal for the arrest of Su Bin, a Chinese immigrant to Canada suspected of masterminding the electronic theft of U.S. fighter jet secrets.

But on Thursday evening, the Global Times, a mouthpiece for the Communist Party, published an informational graphic, entitled "Peeking in China: Spying targets and tactics" that lists the couple with others arrested and sentenced for espionage in the past 11 years.

The Garratts were spies in disguise as ordinary citizens, the graphic claims. It lists "targeting areas to collect information while disguised as ordinary citizens" as surveillance that is one of the "regular missions of spies."

The graphic offers further detail on other such missions, which include:

  • “Deliberately denigrate China’s military power in online forums, military websites or on chat platforms to evoke patriotic netizens to disclose information in their replies.”
  • “Deliberately publish false information on China’s military forces in forums, military websites or on chat platforms to covertly solicit corrections.”
  • “Deliberately post photos of China’s military equipment in forums, military website [sic] or on chat platforms to glean more photos more netizen responses.”

It's unclear whether those details are intended to refer to the Garratts. Mr. Garratt made a hobby of photographing goods, including luxury cars and aid shipments, crossing the border into North Korea. He occasionally posted them to the Internet. But that had "nothing to do with the military," his son, Peter, told The Globe and Mail in an interview the day after the couple were detained.

China's state secrecy laws are very broadly written and can be applied retroactively, making them vulnerable to being used as trumped-up charges, experts have said.

The Global Times graphic places the Garratts in the company of Wang Qingjian, a People's Liberation Army senior colonel who was working for Japan and helped to bug the office of the Chinese ambassador in Tokyo; of Cai Xiaohong, a senior Chinese official in Hong Kong who was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to give secrets to the British; and of Lu Jianhua, a sociologist who established ties with the Chinese president's office and was sentenced to 20 years in jail for passing secrets to the U.S., Japan and Taiwan.

According to the Global Times, punishment for state secrets violations can include deportation for diplomatic staff, an exchange of spies, up to seven years in jail for "intentionally or negligently" divulging state secrets, or death for "stealing, spying or purchasing military secrets for agencies, organizations or individuals outside China."

The Garratts remain in Dandong, the Chinese border city where they lived, but have been barred from meeting with a lawyer hired by the family.

"They said because this is a state security issue, they won't be providing access to legal counsel at this time," their son Simeon said in an interview Thursday.

Staff from the Canadian embassy in Beijing have now met with the couple twice, most recently last week. At that meeting, Mr. Garratt said he has been allowed just 15 minutes outside each day, Simeon said.

"They're doing ok, I guess. They're a little bit annoyed and confused still," Simeon said.

Canadian Cabinet ministers and foreign affairs officials have said very little about what they are doing on behalf of the couple in hopes they can achieve some sort of quiet resolution without angering China.

But the silence has created unhappiness among the couple's children, who this week wrote a letter to the Canadian embassy in Beijing and the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development "to get more of an update on what's happening on their side," Simeon said. "We haven't heard too much. We are trying to push them to be a little bit more open with us, and at least give us some indication as to where this could be going."

The family is "frustrated," he said. "At this point, it's just tough."

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