China says detained Canadians 'in good health'

Beijing (AFP) –


China said Wednesday that two Canadians held for more than 500 days in a case that has roiled diplomatic relations were in "good health", after authorities suspended consular visits over the coronavirus pandemic.

Businessman Michael Spavor and former diplomat Michael Kovrig have been in detention since December 2018, an apparent retaliation for the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on a US warrant.

The United States wants Meng extradited to face trial on charges related to the Chinese telecom equipment maker's alleged violations of US sanctions against Iran.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last Thursday -- on the 500th day of their detention -- that consular visits to the men had been blocked due to a coronavirus lockdown of prisons.

Asked for updates on the detained pair, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular press briefing Wednesday: "I understand these two people are in good health and the Chinese will always protect their legal rights and interests, in line with the law."

Geng added that both men have received visits from the Canadian embassy on multiple occasions, but such visits have been put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The deadly pathogen, first reported in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, has claimed around 214,000 lives worldwide.

Geng said "in order to ensure the safety of detainees, Chinese authorities have temporarily suspended consular visits to detainees", but these may resume once the coronavirus situation eases.

Trudeau has previously noted that Kovrig and Spavor "are in a facility in a region that is not particularly affected by COVID-19."

He said that Canada's foreign minister has also protested to his Chinese counterpart over the continued detention of the pair, who are accused of gathering Chinese state secrets.