Michael Spavor, the Canadian citizen sentenced last month to 11 years in prison in China for espionage, is alleged to have taken photos and videos of military equipment and may have provided them to fellow Canadian Michael Kovrig, a Chinese state-run newspaper reported on Wednesday.
According to a report in the Global Times, a nationalist tabloid owned by the People’s Daily, an unnamed source said Mr. Spavor “was found to have taken photos and videos of Chinese military equipment on multiple occasions and illegally provided some of those photos to people outside China.”
Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig were arrested in December, 2018, shortly after Canada detained Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou, who is being sought by the United States on bank fraud charges. This is the first time the specific allegations against Mr. Spavor, and about a connection between the two men’s cases, have been made public.
This weekend marks 1,000 days since the two Michaels were imprisoned, and their families are planning events in Ottawa and around the world to call for their immediate release.
Ottawa has consistently denounced the two men’s detention as arbitrary and politically motivated, and called for their release. Until now, little has been made public against them: their trials earlier this year were heard behind closed doors, with Canadian officials not allowed entry.
According to the Global Times report, citing “a source close to the matter,” the photos and videos allegedly taken by Mr. Spavor constituted “second-tier state secrets.” The report said Mr. Spavor was a “key informant” for Mr. Kovrig.
“The source said between 2017 and 2018, Kovrig entered China under the guise of a businessman and false pretext of commerce,” the paper reported. “In Beijing, Shanghai, Jilin and other places, through his associates, Kovrig gathered a large amount of undisclosed information related to China’s national security, on which he wrote analytical reports. The information Kovrig gathered included second-tier state secrets and intelligence.”
After Mr. Spavor’s sentencing last month, Canada’s ambassador to China, Dominic Barton, said part of the case hinged on photos the businessman took at airports, which the Chinese were casting as suspicious or illegal, but Mr. Spavor regarded as innocent.
According to Chinese law, state secrets concern “matters that have a vital bearing on state security and national interests and, as specified by legal procedure, are entrusted to a limited number of people for a given period of time.”
The term “second-tier state secrets” used by the Global Times appears to be in reference to what is defined in the law as “classified information,” or “state secrets, the divulgence of which will cause serious harm to state security and national interests.”
The report did not disclose what equipment exactly Mr. Spavor was supposed to have photographed, or how doing so would have harmed state security.
Global Times, while owned by the more staid People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party, is known for its strident criticism of Western governments and media, and for publishing provocative opinion pieces aimed at a foreign audience.
The paper previously publicized a campaign to gather signatures demanding the release of Ms. Meng, whose prosecution Beijing regards as political, stemming from the Donald Trump administration.
In the article about Mr. Spavor, the paper complained that “some Canadian media and politicians continue to ignore the collective voice of the Chinese citizens.”
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