China said Thursday two Canadians who have been detained since December have been formally arrested for crimes linked to taking state secrets.
Former diplomat Michael Kovrig is suspected of “collecting state secrets and intelligence” while businessman Michael Spavor is accused of “stealing and illegally offering state secrets” abroad, said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang at a press briefing.
The two men were first accused of activities that “endanger China’s security” – a phrase often used by Beijing when alleging espionage.
JUST IN: Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale responds to China’s decision to officially arrest Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. Both have been detained since December 2018. #cdnpoli #china https://t.co/R5lRR3sjQn pic.twitter.com/5rTqWpfPH6
— Michel Boyer (@BoyerMichel) May 16, 2019
China later announced it suspected Kovrig, who works for the International Crisis Group think tank, of espionage and alleged that Spavor had provided him with intelligence.
Spying charges could expose them to tough prison sentences.
Though no link has been officially made, the arrests are thought to be in retaliation for Canada’s December 1 arrest of Meng Wanzhou, a top executive at Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei.
She was detained in December on a request from the United States, which has accused her of violating sanctions on Iran.
Both men have been denied access to lawyers and allowed only monthly consular visits.
China has also never announced where the men are being held.