AFTER 18 MONTHS of holding him without charges, Chinese authorities have accused a Canadian Pentecostal pastor of “accepting tasks” to gather intelligence on China for Canadian spy services. On Jan. 28th Kevin Garratt was charged with spying and stealing state secrets in Dandong, the northeastern Chinese city where he and his wife, Julia, ran a popular coffee shop near a river overlooking North Korea.
The couple was detained Aug. 4, 2014. Julia Garratt was released Feb. 5. 2015 on bail but is barred from leaving China or speaking with media.
The case has become a point of contention between Ottawa and Beijing, just when the government under Justin Trudeau hopes to pursue a free-trade agreement that Beijing has long sought. Trudeau is planning a high-level trip to China later this year. Canada’s foreign-affairs department called Garratt’s indictment “concerning,” saying in a statement that “the government of Canada has raised this case with the Chinese government at high levels.”
Rich Kao, senior pastor at Five Stones Church, the New Westminster, B.C. congregation the Garratts attended, said: “As a church family, we have been praying and longing for Kevin’s release. Our hearts are sick over this but hopeful for a peaceable outcome.”
The Garratts first went to China in 1984 and, over the years in various cities, they ran a translation company, a kindergarten and community centres. The couple’s work was supported by donations from Canadian churches. In 2008, they moved to Dandong, where they held Sunday church services in their home and helped to co-ordinate the delivery of food and equipment to North Korean orphanages and homes for the elderly.
Dandong is the most important crossing point for goods and people into North Korea and a frequent crossroads for spies, journalists and diplomats looking for insights into the secretive country. The Garratts travelled into North Korea to assess needs and inspect the goods they had sent in, including rice, corn and a machine that makes soy milk from soybeans.
Their detention after three decades of humanitarian work in China created a diplomatic storm, with then-prime minister Stephen Harper raising their case directly with Chinese leadership during a state visit to China in November, 2014.
The pastor’s lengthy detention without any formal charges being filed against him exceeded by far the normal Chinese statutes for processing suspects. He has only been allowed to see lawyers once, has suffered health problems and has not yet received a chance to defend himself in court.
“Clearly it’s a negative development if they are proceeding with an indictment,” said Gordon Houlden, a former diplomat who is now director of the China Institute at the University of Alberta. “I have no indication whatsoever the Garratts, either one of them, have done anything wrong,” he said. But, he added, there are limitations to what Canadian diplomacy can achieve – particularly in China, which has taken a more assertive stance in international relations under President Xi Jinping.
The Chinese government has denied claims it has charged the pastor as an act of retribution for Canada’s arrest of a Chinese man, Su Bin, wanted by the United States for allegedly stealing fighter-jet documents. TAP –Main source: The Globe and Mail