The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion China’s cooked-up charges against two Canadians are utter thuggery

Canadian businessman Michael Spavor at Beijing Capital International Airport on Jan. 13, 2014.

For nearly 1,000 days, two Canadians, seized by Chinese authorities in an act of diplomatic hooliganism, have been held in barely humane conditions, deprived of all but sporadic contact with their families or Canadian consular officials and facing charges for which “opaque” is too dignified a description. On Wednesday, one of them, Michael Spavor, a business consultant, was sentenced to an 11-year prison term — the latest proof that the Communist government in Beijing is content to deploy its legal system with all the subtlety that gangsters wield a sap.

Mr. Spavor and the other Canadian in detention, former diplomat Michael Kovrig, were arrested shortly after Canada, acting on an extradition request by the United States, arrested the chief financial officer of China’s most prominent technology firm, Huawei, in late 2018. Thus did the Canadians, held by China as hostages on cooked-up charges, become human bargaining chips in the escalating superpower tensions between Beijing and Washington.

The Chinese executive, Meng Wanzhou, is also the daughter of Huawei’s founder and chief executive, who is one of China’s most prominent (and richest) businessmen. She is charged with fraud in the United States for allegedly lying about dealings with Iran, in violation of trade sanctions. While she awaits the outcome of her extradition case in Vancouver, she moves freely around the city, engages in high-end shopping sprees and lives in a mansion where she has received massages and private painting lessons. The Canadians, held in separate prisons in northern China, are confined to cramped cells and sustained by a diet that sometimes has been restricted to rice and boiled vegetables.

There is nothing subtle about China’s linkage of Ms. Meng’s case with that of the two Canadians. They were arrested days after Ms. Meng was, though she was quickly released with an ankle bracelet to track her movements. Mr. Spavor’s sentencing Wednesday took place the same day Ms. Meng’s extradition hearing began in a Vancouver court. Mr. Kovrig’s sentencing is expected soon.

As for the Canadians’ alleged “crimes,” don’t expect subtlety there, either. According to Ottawa’s ambassador to China, Mr. Spavor is accused of taking photos at airports that included military aircraft. Mr. Spavor is alleged to have been an intelligence contact of Mr. Kovrig, a Canadian diplomat on leave to do work for International Crisis Group, a respected research outfit. No evidence has been publicly presented against them; their trials were closed to diplomats and journalists.

In fact, the charges, and now the sentence against Mr. Spavor, are transparent pressure designed to force Canada to release Ms. Meng. So is another case in China, against Canadian Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, whose initial 15-year sentence on drug charges was abruptly shifted to a death sentence by a Chinese court a few weeks after Ms. Meng’s detention.

China’s kangaroo courts operate in service to the country’s Communist Party and its leader, Xi Jinping, whose contempt for international standards of law and justice is manifest. Beijing’s diplomatic thuggery, which mirrors its brutal crackdown in Hong Kong and genocidal oppression against its Muslim Uyghur population, casts a clear light on the travesty of its role as host of the 2022 Winter Olympics. The world should be appalled.