Chinese officials said on Friday they had indicted two Canadians on charges of espionage, escalating Beijing’s punitive campaign against Canada over the arrest of a top executive of the Chinese technology giant Huawei.
The two men, Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat, and Michael Spavor, a business consultant, were detained in 2018 as relations between China and Canada soured when Canada arrested the chief financial officer of Huawei at the request of the United States.
In brief statements on Friday, Chinese court officials said that Mr. Kovrig had been indicted in Beijing on charges of espionage and Mr. Spavor in Dandong, a northeastern city, on charges of espionage and providing state secrets abroad. If convicted in China’s courts, which are controlled by the governing Communist Party, they could face harsh punishments.
The two Canadians are at the center of a heated international dispute that has pitted China against Canada and the United States, at a time when relations have deteriorated to their lowest point in decades.
Canada has moved forward with preparations to extradite the Huawei executive, Meng Wanzhou, to the United States, even in the face of fierce opposition from China. A Canadian court ruled last month that prosecutors had satisfied a critical legal requirement for her extradition.
Ms. Meng was indicted in the United States last year on sweeping fraud charges.
The Canadian Embassy in Beijing did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Human rights groups denounced the indictments of the Canadians.
Yaqiu Wang, a China researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the Chinese government’s treatment of the two men was “absolutely chilling.”
“For the past one and half years, they have been denied access to families or lawyers,” she said. “Instead of prosecuting Spavor and Kovrig on bogus espionage charges, Chinese authorities should release them immediately.”
Albee Zhang and Claire Fu contributed research.