China charges Canadian Christian aid worker with spying

Family dismisses charges as absurd
China charges Canadian Christian aid worker with spying

A screen that reads "justice, rule of law, patriotism, dedication" is seen on the closed gate of the coffee house owned by Canadian Kevin Garratt, in Dandong, northeast China's Liaoning province. China has charged Garratt with spying and stealing state secrets. (Photo by AFP) reporter, Dandong
December 26, 2016
(UCAN Series: Best of 2016)

A Canadian Christian aid worker who ran a coffee shop on China's border with North Korea has been charged with spying and stealing state secrets.

Following a year and a half of detention in the border city of Dandong in Liaoning province, Kevin Garratt is due to face trial, China's official news agency Xinhua said Jan. 28.

"During the investigation, Chinese authorities also found evidence that implicates Garratt in accepting tasks from Canadian espionage agencies to gather intelligence in China," Xinhua reported, citing unnamed state prosecutors in Dandong.

The report gave no date for the trial. James Zimmerman, the Beijing-based attorney for the Garratt family, had no immediate comment before waiting to receive official documents from the court.

Garratt and his wife Julia were detained in August, 2014, with Julia Garratt later released on bail last February but still barred from leaving the country.

The couple from Vancouver have lived in China for more than 30 years. Garratt worked for the Canada-based Christian nongovernmental organization North Star Aid and ran a coffee shop in Dandong close to the bridge over the Yalu River that connects with Sinuiju, the main trade link between China and North Korea.

North Aid Star distributes medical and food aid to North Koreans living inside the isolated country.

The Garratts' three children have dismissed the spying charges as "absurd." Dandong residents said their popular coffee shop was so innocuous it featured an electronic sign flashing phrases including "patriotism" and "rule of law" more commonly seen on Chinese propaganda billboards.

Garratt's indictment was announced the day after Canadian Prime Minister attended a banquet in Ottawa hosted by Chinese Cabinet ministers to mark 45 years of formal ties between the two countries. Trudeau's new government is seeking a trade deal with China.

The spying charges against Garratt come days after China expelled Swedish aid worker Peter Dahlin on charges of violating national security after he worked with human rights lawyers who challenged the state.

The recent cases suggested that Beijing's intolerance of civil society was now spreading to foreigners in the country, said William Nee, a China researcher for Amnesty International based in Hong Kong.

"It's too soon for us to definitively comment on the substance of the [Garratt] case, but in the broader context, China seems determined to tighten control over civil society under the pretext of national security," he said.


Published Jan. 29, 2016

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