For more than 1,000 days, two Canadian men held in China have been in separate prisons. They have been accused of espionage, without evidence, and forced to go months without visits from diplomats. They have waited as their cases meander through China’s opaque legal system, despite calls around the world for their release.
The men — Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat, and Michael Spavor, an entrepreneur — were once relatively low-profile expatriates working in Asia. They have become symbols of the consequences of Beijing’s increasingly aggressive foreign policy, their detentions widely perceived as retribution for Meng Wanzhou’s arrest.
In August, a court in northeastern China, where Mr. Spavor has lived, sentenced him to 11 years in prison after declaring him guilty of spying. Mr. Kovrig has been awaiting sentencing.
During his detainment, Mr. Kovrig, who worked for a nonprofit organization, has been confined to a small jail cell in Beijing and was subjected to repeated interrogations. During his incarceration, his diet has at times been restricted to rice and boiled vegetables, he told his family.
The Chinese authorities have kept Mr. Kovrig so isolated that he was not aware of the details of the coronavirus pandemic until October, his wife, Vina Nadjibulla said, when Canadian diplomats informed him during a virtual visit.
“He is remarkably resilient, but his situation is difficult to endure,” Ms. Nadjibulla said in an interview. “We worry about the toll this is having on his mental health.”
Mr. Spavor, a businessman, forged a career doing business with North Korea. He helped organize a visit to North Korea by Mr. Rodman, the retired basketball player, in 2013 and then a second visit the following year. Mr. Spavor’s company, Paektu Cultural Exchange, posted a picture showing Mr. Spavor with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, on Mr. Kim’s yacht in 2013.
In Canada, where the detentions of the “two Michaels” have been front-page news for months, the crisis has stoked widespread anger and underscored the country’s weakness in the face of a rising superpower.
Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, has repeatedly criticized China’s handling of the case and demanded the release of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor.
Ms. Nadjibulla said that Mr. Kovrig was passing the time by exercising in his cell and reading letters from family members. He has also found solace in books like Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom.”
While Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor have been afforded minimal contact with the outside world, Ms. Meng has encountered few such restrictions. She has been free to take private painting lessons and go shopping, and before the pandemic was able to attend concerts by Chinese singers, though she is required to wear a GPS tracker.