China accuses Canadian of spying near North Korean border

China indicts Canadian citizen detained since 2014 on charges of spying and stealing state secrets

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Hua Chunying, spokeswoman of China's Foreign Ministry, speaks at a regular news conference in Beijing, China, January 6, 2016.

China indicted a Canadian citizen detained since 2014 on charges of spying and stealing state secrets in Dandong, a city in China's northeast. Canada said it was monitoring developments closely on Thursday.

Kevin Garratt was detained in August 2014 , along with his wife, who was also detained for months before being released last year, Xinhua state news agency said.

"During the investigation, Chinese authorities also found evidence which implicates Garratt in accepting tasks from Canadian espionage agencies to gather intelligence in China," Xinhua reported.

The couple was running a Christian coffee shop on the Chinese border with North Korea since 2008. The region is quite sensitive for China and the state strictly regulates activities within its borders. However, China's foreign minister said that the case had nothing to do with Garat’s faith on Friday.

"China's judicial authorities will handle the case strictly according to law and Kevin Garratt's legal rights will be fully guaranteed," ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters.

Canada accused Chinese hackers of breaking into a key computer network last week, further raising tensions between the countries.

"Canada finds the indictment of Kevin Garratt by China concerning," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Francois Lasalle.

Garratt's son, Simeon Garratt, a Vancouver resident, said he was waiting for an update from his family's legal team in China.

"We don't really have any more word on it other than that. We haven't had access to anything to this point. It's a waiting game to be honest," Garratt said in an interview.

He said his mother was still not able to leave China. Julia Garratt was released in February but barred from leaving.

James Zimmerman, a Beijing-based lawyer for the Garratt family, declined to comment and said he was waiting to receive official documents from the court.

Brock University Professor Charles Burton, a former Canadian diplomat who served two terms in China, said the indictment could signal the start of a process to expel the couple.

The main opposition Conservative Party demanded Ottawa act to secure Garrett's release.

"It is the height of irony, that as the Prime Minister ... [was] celebrating with Chinese diplomats at an event in Ottawa last night, Kevin Garratt sat in a Chinese jail," it said in a statement.

Reuters, TRTWorld and agencies