By Agence France-Presse
The Canadian former diplomat detained in China amid a diplomatic spat with Beijing has not yet been allowed to meet with his lawyers, the think tank that currently employs him said Friday.
Michael Kovrig “has not been allowed access to his lawyers. The arrest is unjustified,” said Hugh Pope, a spokesman for the International Crisis Group, a think tank that analyzes conflicts and geopolitical flashpoints.
“We call for him to be released immediately, and at a minimum for him to be allowed regular consular access, contact with his family and to see his legal counsel,” Pope said.
Kovrig was arrested on December 10, the same day that Chinese authorities detained another Canadian national, Michael Spavor.
The arrests came after Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese telecom giant Huawei, on a US warrant that accused her of violating sanctions on Iran.
The Canadians were arrested for what China has said is suspicion of “harm to national security” — a phrase often used by Beijing when alleging espionage.
Some analysts believe the arrests of Kovrig and Spavor — who had arranged trips to North Korea, including for former NBA star Dennis Rodman — were a means for Beijing to pressure Ottawa into releasing Meng.
The ICG’s spokesman said that Kovrig “must be tired and stressed.”
“Others in similar situations have described their condition of detention after having been released. They speak of intensive questioning, that the lights in their room aren’t ever switched off, and so on,” said Pope.
“There is no reason to believe that it is otherwise for Michael. That is very worrying to us.”
Canada’s ambassador to China, John McCallum, was able to meet Kovrig last Friday, officials in Ottawa said.
A third Canadian citizen, identified as Sarah McIver, was arrested this week and accused of visa violations, the Chinese foreign ministry said.
But her case seems less serious than those of her compatriots, Chinese officials said, and she is being held by local rather than national security forces.