The government of China has accused a Canadian couple of espionage. According to sources, Kevin Garratt and Julia Dawn Garratt are being held in Dandong, a city in north China, and are accused of stealing national defense and military secrets.
It is reported the couple has been living in China since 1984, where they first worked as English teachers in the south of the country. In 2008 they moved northwards into Dandong, a border town between China and the secluded communist North Korea, where they decided to open a coffee shop which they named Peter’s Coffee House.
When reached for comments, their son Simeon Garratt denied the espionage allegations, terming them as a joke and utter nonsense. He went further to clarify that his parents, who speak Mandarin, were not in any way linked to the military in Canada as far as he knew. He also said that he is unable to reach his parents since the whereabouts of their detention are unknown.
Simeon Garratt explained that the only activities his parents engaged in were centered on running the coffee shop as well as holding regular events to encourage English speaking practice. In addition, they were helping people to find North Korea tour organizers. They had visited North Korea several times and are said to have wanted others to experience similar benefits of a tour.
Apparently, when the Canadian couple who are accused of espionage in China disappeared, they were said to have been on their way to visit friends for dinner, but at some point were unreachable as their phones were switched off. Nobody has been able to communicate with them since then.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in China, both Kevin and Julia Garratt are suspected of illegally gathering military intelligence related to China’s national defense research programs. The couple is also said to have strong roots in the Christian missionary community.
China is a predominantly atheist country in which all religions are officially banned, although there are areas where officials are said to be somewhat tolerant, so there are some that see this as the main problem. There have been numerous cases where Chinese citizens who practice religions such Falun Gong or Buddhism have been given long prison sentences.
Sources reveal that espionage cases are not held in open courts. It has been revealed that foreigners are rarely charged with this crime, and that it is generally targeted at native Chinese who will normally be accused of peddling state secrets to yang guizi or “foreign devils.”
One of the others who has been charged and convicted of similar crimes is Xue Feng, an American-Chinese geologist educated in the U.S., who was detained after attempting to procure information pertaining to the Chinese oil industry. His action was said to have endangered China’s national security interests.
Not long after, Stern Hu, was given a prison term of 10 years and charged over $5,000. His charge sheet read that he had stolen top secret government information on behalf of his employer Rio Tinto, a mining company.
There are those who feel that the arrest of the couple, indicted on espionage charges in China, is closely linked to the trading of accusations between Canada and China. Canada believes that hackers considered to be Chinese had targeted a leading Canadian research body, the National Research Council.
By Caroline Wanjiru