China’s Foreign Ministry has announced that Julia Garratt, a Canadian woman detained with her husband on suspicion of stealing Chinese state secrets, has been released on bail while the case remains under investigation, according to several reports. Both Julia and her husband Kevin were detained on August 4 by the state security bureau in China’s northeastern city of Dandong, which borders North Korea. Their detentions came amid a crackdown on Christian groups aiding North Korean refugees along the border.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei, who announced Ms. Garratt’s release pending investigation, said both have been charged with stealing secrets and spying, and Kevin Garratt has been moved from residential surveillance to the more serious status of criminal detention.
“Kevin Garratt and Julia Garratt are under suspicion of undermining China’s state security. Competent Chinese authorities will handle the case and ensure the legal rights of the two persons according to law.”
John Babcock, a spokesperson for the Canadian government, said Canada welcomed Julia Garratt’s release but stated that the Canadian government still remained highly concerned about Kevin Garratt’s condition.
“We have raised the case at the highest levels and will continue to raise it with senior Chinese officials. Consular officials have had regular access to the Garratts and will continue to push for regular access to provide consular support.”
The Garratts, who are both originally from Vancouver, moved to China in 1984 and opened a coffee shop in 2008, which some reports have stated was very popular. The coffee shop has been closed since the couples incarceration.
The couple worked with North Star Aid, whose website said the British Columbia-registered charity seeks to help North Koreans primarily through providing humanitarian aid. The accusations against the couple last August came a week after Canada accused a China-sponsored hacker of infiltrating Canada’s National Research Council, the country’s major research and development organization. China’s foreign ministry expressed strong displeasure over the allegation.
The couples’ detention by China’s State Security Bureau has been seen by Canadian authorities as reprisal for the arrest of Su Bin in mid-2014. Su Bin was a Chinese immigrant to Canada suspected of masterminding the electronic theft of U.S. fighter jet secrets. After China detained the couple, the Global Times, a government-backed news publication, published an informational graphic that lists the couple with others arrested and sentenced for espionage in the past 11 years.
The graphic claims that the Garratts were spies in disguise as ordinary citizens. It lists “targeting areas to collect information while disguised as ordinary citizens” as surveillance that is one of the “regular missions of spies.”
[Image via Daderot/Wikimedia Commons]