A Canadian man held since 2014 in China on charges of espionage and stealing state secrets has been freed and has returned to Canada, his family said Thursday.
Kevin Garratt, who ran a coffee shop in the northeastern city of Dandong, near the border with North Korea, was detained with his wife, Julia, more than two years ago. She was released in February 2015.
The pair, who had been accused by Chinese authorities of stealing military secrets, were also involved in Christian aid activities in the sensitive border area.
According to a statement from the family, a Chinese court ruled on Garratt’s case Tuesday. Two days later, he was deported from the country and “has returned to Canada to be with his family and friends.”
“The Garratt family thanks everyone for their thoughts and prayers, and also thanks the many individuals who worked to secure Kevin’s release,” the statement said. “Please respect the family’s privacy in this time of transition. We will be releasing more information in the coming weeks.”
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said in late January that authorities had found evidence that “implicated Garratt in accepting tasks from Canadian espionage agencies to gather intelligence in China.”
The Garratts, from Vancouver, reportedly had lived in China since 1984 and since 2008 ran a popular coffee shop in Dandong and conducted Christian aid work for North Koreans.
Dandong is the main China-North Korea border crossing and trade link. It is known as a key transit point for North Korean refugees, some of whom are aided by NGOs or Christian groups.
China strictly regulates religious activities within its borders but the Foreign Ministry said the case had nothing to do with the Garratts’ faith.
The release is a win for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who wrapped up his first official visit to China as Canadian leader last week. Trudeau had raised the issue, as well other human rights concerns — a sensitive issue in China — during the visit.
In a statement after Garratt’s release, Trudeau praised the “grace and resilience of the Garratt family, especially Kevin and Julia.”
“We are delighted that Kevin Garratt has returned safely to Canada and is with his family once more,” Trudeau added in the statement. “We want to thank consular officials who work behind the scenes every day in support of Canadians abroad.”
Just a day earlier, Trudeau’s office also announced that Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will travel to Ottawa and Montreal for an official visit between Sept. 21-24.
China is Canada’s second-largest trading partner after the United States.
It has strongly pushed Canada to join the China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which Ottawa said last month it will apply to join.
The U.S. and Japan, the world’s No. 1 and No. 3 economies, respectively, have declined to join the grouping, which rivals the Asian Development Bank and World Bank.
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