Don't let Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor be forgotten
The trouble with a news cycle, is that it’s just that. A story hits the top of a newscast or the front page of a newspaper one day, and can be forgotten the next.
That’s troublesome enough when the public loses sight of an important issue because there are no new developments to report.
But it’s heart-rending when someone’s well-being or life is at stake.
That is something the families and friends of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor know all too well.
When Chinese authorities seized the two men on Dec. 10, in what was widely seen as a retaliation against Canada for the arrest in Vancouver of telecom executive Meng Wanzhou, it was news around the world.
Now, more than four long months later, their plight cannot be allowed to end up in the ether.
They must know they are not forgotten.
And it bears repeating, as often as it takes, that they should be immediately released.
Further, Canada’s allies around the world should loudly demand it, too, lest their citizens be next on China’s hit list.
The conditions that Meng, a top executive with China’s Huawei telecom giant, and the two Canadians are held under are as far apart as the two countries’ approaches to human rights.
While Meng awaits a hearing on an extradition request from the United States, she is living in her Vancouver mansion and considering furthering her education at the nearby University of British Columbia.
Kovrig and Spavor, meanwhile, are being held in so-called “black jails” in isolation under 24-hour surveillance in cells that are lit around the clock, denied any access to the outdoors and repeatedly subjected to daylong interrogations.
And things could get worse before they get better.
Already China has upped the ante against the two men. Initially authorities accused Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat who was working for the International Crisis Group, and Spavor, an entrepreneur who promotes business and cultural ties between North Korea and the West, of endangering national security.
But after a Canadian court authorized an extradition hearing for Meng, China claimed that Kovrig, abetted by Spavor, had tried to spy on China and steal state secrets.
They aren’t the only Canadians feeling China’s fury over Meng’s arrest.
Robert Schellenberg was being held on a 15-year sentence for being an accessory to drug trafficking before the diplomatic row began. Soon after Meng’s arrest prosecutors said his sentence was too lenient. After a one-day retrial he was sentenced to death.
And China has demonstrated on many other fronts — such as blocking billions in Canadian canola exports — that it will do anything to force Canadian authorities to release Meng, to the point of trying to intimidate even those who dare speak up on their behalf.
When Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland tried to drum up support from other countries for the release of Kovrig and Spavor, for example, China thundered its disapproval and demanded that she stop. (She did not.)
And when 143 scholars, foreign-policy experts and former diplomats released an open letter in January to Chinese President Xi Jinping calling for the release of the men, China accused the signatories of showing “disrespect for China’s judicial sovereignty,” and insulted them.
In short, Canada is dealing with a bully that will not stop until all countries that believe in the rule of law show a strong united front and demand it.
First up should be the United States. While Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did demand the immediate release of the Canadians, that is as far as this powerful nation has gone for its close ally.
Further, while support from the European Union and NATO and other countries, such as the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Australia, the Netherlands, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Spain and Denmark has been welcome, it has not been framed nearly urgently enough.
No country would want to see its innocent citizens treated as Kovrig and Spavor have been in this diplomatic dispute.
It’s time to make some noise and demand their release.