Photo: James Zimmerman
After a ‘horrendous‘ 775-day ordeal, Kevin Garratt and his wife Julia embrace at the Vancouver airport.
(Staff) Kevin Garratt, the Canadian Pentecostal pastor held for two years in China on suspicion of spying, was released suddenly on Sept. 15th but did not speak publicly about his ordeal for another three weeks.
On Aug. 4th, 2014 Beijing police arrested Garratt, then 54, and his wife Julia, then 53, and charged them with stealing state secrets. The Garratts are originally from Vancouver. At the time of their arrest, they were running a coffee shop in Dandong, a Chinese city on the North Korean border, and had engaged in Christian aid work.
The couple had been teaching in China for thirty years, since 1984, and had run Peter’s Coffee House since 2008. The cafe held a weekly “English corner” to help locals improve their language skills.
“My parents are Christians, yes, and they don’t hide that,” Peter Garratt, their son, told CBC Radio. “But they’re not doing anything against the Chinese government or trying to proselytize.”
The arrests came less than a week after the Canadian government blamed China for alleged cyberhacking at the National Research Council.
Kevin Garratt spoke publicly for the first time on Oct. 6th in Ottawa where he detailed the brutal prison conditions he and his wife suffered.
Garratt said the “horrendous” 775-day ordeal for him, his wife and their family passed by in “long minutes.”
“Julia and I were suddenly taken to a remote compound and held in isolation separately for six months, unjustly interrogated as suspects, accused of espionage and stealing state secrets,” said Garratt, with his wife by his side.
They spent this time apart, each in only a single room with the lights on day and night. The couple’s only contact with the outside world was a 30-minute supervised, monthly visit with a consular official.
In February, 2015 Julia Garratt was released on bail without identification and with multiple communications restrictions. Eventually she was allowed to return to Canada. Her husband’s situation, however, worsened. His health deteriorated and he developed an irregular heartbeat.
“I was criminally arrested and transferred to a small prison cell with up to 14 other prisoners. Cot-to-cot, we were right beside each other … with 24/7 fluorescent lights on,” he said.
Canadian Security Intelligence Service Director Michel Coulombe visited China in May to assure his Chinese counterpart that Garratt did not work for CSIS.
Then in mid-September after a massive effort by the Canadian government, its embassy in Beijing and two prime ministers, the pastor was suddenly released. It came one day after Ottawa agreed to bilateral extradition-treaty talks with China. Despite the timing, the government insists Canada made no concessions for Garratt’s return.
There are concerns that an extradition treaty, which China has been seeking for 15 years, would commit Canada to transfer fugitive Chinese citizens to a country known for biased courts and harsh interrogation methods, and where the death penalty is imposed even for non-violent crimes. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada would insist that no one extradited to China would suffer the death penalty but that still leaves the door open to numerous other abuses in a state where due process and fair trial are not guaranteed.
The Garratt family came to Ottawa in October to thank the government for the pair’s release.
“Prime Minister Trudeau, former Prime Minister Harper and their teams, family, friends and communities in Canada and worldwide persevered in prayer, and quiet, but strategic action, never stopped until we were on home soil. We are so, so grateful,” Mr. Garratt said.
Christian missionaries play a critical role in the underground railroad that helps North Korean defectors in China. “If you are a North Korean in China, the only place where you can realistically be given food and shelter is a church,” Andrei Lankov, a Russian scholar and expert on North Korea, told the Globe and Mail.
The Chinese border with North Korea is a politically sensitive area, but it is thought by some that the Chinese government wants to rid the whole country of all foreign missionaries by 2017. Visas are being reduced from 12 months to three or are not being granted at all. There is also a renewed campaign to require Chinese Christians to worship only in government-run churches. Of China’s estimated 67 million to 100 million Christians, only 23 million attend state-sanctioned churches. TAP