A Canadian man, who conducted Christian aid work and ran a popular coffee shop with his wife near China’s border with North Korea, has been accused of spying and stealing China’s state secrets, China’s official news agency reports.
Kevin Garratt has been indicted by prosecutors in Dandong city in northeast China’s Liaoning province, Xinhua said.
Chinese authorities allegedly found evidence that Garratt was accepting requests from Canadian espionage agencies to gather intelligence in China.
The agency said the Garratt case will be tried at the Dandong Intermediate People’s Court.
Garratt and his wife Julia, who hail from Vancouver, British Columbia, and have been living in China for the past 30 years, were arrested in August 2014. Julia was released on bail in February 2015.
A spokesperson for Canadian Global Affairs department said Canadian consular officials are providing support to the Garratts.
“Canada finds the indictment of Kevin Garratt by China concerning,” spokesperson François Lasalle said in an email.
Lasalle said Canadian officials had raised the case with high-level members of the Chinese government.
Garratt’s father, Ross Garratt, of Innisfil, Ontario, said his son’s health is poor, and the family is hoping China will release him on humanitarian grounds.
“He should be out of jail, that’s for sure,” he said.
Garratt said Julia Garratt has been keeping the family updated on his son’s condition. The family was told to expect formal charges, he said.
“I think they’re just persecuting him because he’s a Christian and he was helping out the people over there,” he said.
The Garratts are aid workers who have lived in China since the 1980s, where they raised four children. They owned a café in Dandong city — Peter’s Coffee House — which has been shuttered since their arrest.
The coffee shop was popular with the city’s expatriate English teachers and foreigners.
The Garratts are devout Christians. They worked with North Star Aid, a charity that delivered food and supplies to North Koreans, and used to travel to North Korea regularly.
Shortly after the Garratts were detained in 2014, their eldest son, Simeon, said he knew of “no possible scenario I can think of that makes it plausible” that his parents would be stealing state secrets about military and national defense research.
“The best way I could describe is my dad is upset, for sure. I think he’s angry, mad, confused. There’s a lot of things that they have going on and it’s not just them that suffer from this,” Simeon Garratt said after his parents were arrested.
Some experts have suggested that the Garratt charges could be retaliation for Canadian allegations of Chinese espionage.
The couple’s arrest occurred days after the Canadian government accused Chinese hackers of infiltrating computers at the National Research Council of Canada, a claim Beijing vehemently denies.
Conservative MP Tony Clement issued a statement expressing concern that the indictment may be part of a broader Chinese crackdown on international non-governmental workers based in China.
There was other news this week involving westerners accused of “criminal activity” in China.
The Chinese government deported a Swedish man it accused of training and funding unlicensed lawyers in China, after he made a confession that was broadcast on state television. A Swedish Embassy spokesman confirmed Tuesday that Peter Dahlin had left China.
James Zimmerman, a lawyer in Beijing who has represented the couple, was due to make a statement.