Ex-Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig detained in China, employer claims

A Canadian employee of the International Crisis Group (ICG) has reportedly been detained by Chinese security...

Posted: Dec 12, 2018 11:44 AM
Updated: Dec 12, 2018 11:44 AM

A Canadian employee of the International Crisis Group (ICG) has reportedly been detained by Chinese security services in Beijing, the nonprofit organization said Wednesday.

Michael Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat who is the organization's northeast Asia senior adviser, has been working with the group since February 2017, the group's statement said.

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ICG alleged that Kovrig had been detained on Monday night by the Beijing Bureau of Chinese State Security, calling for the Canadian's "immediate release."

"Crisis Group has received no information about Michael since his detention and is concerned for his health and safety," their statement said.

In a press conference Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang refused to confirm or deny whether Kovrig had been detained.

"I have nothing to offer to you here. And if this is the case, please be assured that the authorities will deal with this in accordance with laws and regulations," Lu said.

But Lu added that the ICG was not registered in China under the relevant laws and therefore anyone operating in China on the NGO's behalf would be doing so illegally.

Kovrig's reported disappearance comes in the wake of Canada detaining Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer for the Chinese technology company Huawei, on December 1 in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Meng could face extradition to the United States over the alleged violation of US sanctions on Iran, a move that has provoked fury in Chinese state media.

"To treat a Chinese citizen like a serious criminal, to roughly trample their basic human rights, and to dishonor their dignity, how is this the method of a civilized country? How can this not make people furious?" said an editorial Sunday in the People's Daily, the official mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government had been in direct contact with Chinese diplomats and representatives.

"We are engaged on the file, which we take very seriously, and we are of course providing consular assistance to the family," Trudeau said.

State Department deputy spokesperson Robert Palladino told reporters Tuesday that the US is concerned about the reports on Kovrig.

"We urge China to end all forms of arbitrary detention and to respect the protections and freedoms of all individuals under China's international human rights and consular commitments," Palladino said.

Asked whether the US is considering updating its travel advisory for businesspeople heading to China, Palladino pointed to the current advisory, which tells travelers to exercise increased caution. Reuters reports that the Trump administration is considering issuing a new travel advisory for China to caution American business executives and other citizens.

When he was asked if the US has any issues with the way Canada has detained Meng, Palladino suggested it was clear from the unsealed court filings that there were reasonable grounds for her arrest.

Kovrig's social media accounts were active up until Sunday. According to the International Crisis Group's website, he had been a diplomat before in Beijing and Hong Kong and spoke fluent Mandarin.

He primarily has written about China's role in geopolitics, including the North Korea negotiations and relations with the United States.

"Throughout his time with the organization, Michael has distinguished himself for his rigorous and impartial reporting, regularly interviewing Chinese officials to accurately reflect their views on our work," the ICG statement said.

The Chinese government has detained foreign employees of nongovernmental organizations in the past but infrequently. In January 2016, Sweden's Peter Dahlin was taken into custody for three weeks.

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