Two Canadians who spent nearly three years in Chinese prisons returned safely to Canadian soil on Saturday and were about to be reunited with loved ones who had crusaded for their release.
Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor arrived in Calgary early Saturday aboard a Canadian Forces plane and were personally received by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Global Affairs Minister Marc Garneau.
Kovrig then boarded a plane for a flight to Toronto, where he was received by his family just before 1 p.m.
Welcome home, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. You have shown incredible strength, flexibility and perseverance. Know that Canadians across the country will be here for you, just as they have been. pic.twitter.com/1UoLbBFGNv
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) September 25, 2021
The flight carrying Spavor and Kovrig, known internationally as “The Two Michaels”, left for Canada late Friday, as Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou sought to resolve a legal saga. The latter made its way back to China, which plunged them all into a geopolitical scuffle.
The case linking the fate of the three detained citizens came to an abrupt conclusion when Meng, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies and the daughter of the telecommunications founder, reached a settlement with US prosecutors on charges of fraud and conspiracy related to US sanctions against Iran. did.
In a virtual appearance in a New York courtroom, Meng pleaded not guilty to all charges as the judge signed a deferred prosecution agreement that would dismiss the indictment against him no later than December 1, 2022—his arrest. after four years from the date of Provided that it has performed all its obligations under the terms of the transaction.
Shortly thereafter, Meng walked out of the British Columbia Supreme Court after a judge agreed to a discharge order that withdrew a US extradition request that led to his 2018 arrest in Vancouver.
A few days later, in apparent retaliation, Kovrig and Spavor were arrested in China on espionage charges. China has publicly said there is no link between its case and the men’s imprisonment, but has given widespread indications that if allowed to go free, it could benefit the two Canadians.
The flight carrying Kovrig and Spavor departed China at about the same time as Meng was on her way back to her home country from Vancouver.
While Meng was placed under house arrest in a mansion in that city, Canadians faced very harsh conditions in Chinese prisons where their access to the outside world was extremely limited.
Earlier this year, both Kovrig and Spavor were convicted of espionage in closed Chinese courts – a process that Canada and dozens of allies said held no accountability in arbitrary detention on bogus charges in a closed system of justice.
Spavor received an 11-year sentence, while Kovrig was yet to be sentenced.
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Meng arrived on Saturday evening on a chartered jet provided by flag carrier Air China at the Southern Technology Center in Shenzhen, where Huawei is located.
His return was met with a flag-waving group of airline employees, which was broadcast live on state TV, with Beijing linking its case with Chinese nationalism and its rise as a global economic and political power.
Meng, dressed in a red dress that matches the color of the Chinese flag, thanked the ruling Communist Party and its leader Xi Jinping for more than 1,000 days under house arrest in Vancouver, where she owns a two-million dollar mansion.
“I have finally returned to the warm embrace of the motherland,” Meng said. “As a normal Chinese citizen going through this difficult time, I have always felt the warmth and concern of the party, the nation and the people.”
Shortly before his return, the Communist Party’s flagship People’s Daily newspaper declared the resolution of the matter as a “great victory for the Chinese people” achieved through the “sustained efforts of the Chinese government”.
“The evidence suggests that this was purely a case of political persecution of a Chinese citizen with the aim of suppressing China’s technological progress,” the newspaper said. “No force can stop China’s further progress,” he said.
In an emailed statement, Huawei said it would continue to defend itself against the allegations. The company also sent a statement from Meng’s lawyer, William W. Taylor III, which said he “has not admitted the crime and we fully expect the indictment to be dismissed with prejudice after 14 months.” “
Crisis Group said it welcomes the release of Kovrig, who worked with the international foreign policy think tank before his arrest.
“After more than 1,000 days of detention in Beijing, our colleague Michael was released along with another Canadian, Michael Spavor, on September 24,” the group said in a statement. “We are relieved that the Chinese government has corrected this wrong.”
The group praised Kovrig’s “persistence and humanity” as well as the efforts of Canadian authorities during the past three years, who have “worked tirelessly in support of Michael.”
“Michael, we are very proud of you. We are very proud to have you as part of the Crisis Group family. You are an inspiration to all of us. Suswagatam.”