A Canadian couple, who ran a popular coffee shop on the country's border with North Korea, was detained by Chinese authorities on Monday for allegedly stealing state military secrets.
The couple, Kevin Garratt and Julia Dawn Garratt, ran Peter’s Coffee Shop in Dandong in China’s northeast, which lies on the Chinese end of the Friendship Bridge that connects the country to North Korea over the Yalu River. The Canadian embassy, which has reportedly been informed about the case, has offered to provide assistance to them but, if the couple is proven guilty, they could potentially be sentenced to 10 years in prison or even death, local reports said.
The case follows Canada’s accusation last week that China had hacked into its internal networks. Chinese officials said, according to Xinhua, that the couple has been charged with “theft of state secrets on China’s military and national defense research.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, said in a statement, “We are aware of reports that two Canadians have been detained in China. We are gathering information and monitoring developments closely. Canadian consular officials stand ready to provide assistance, as required. To protect the private and personal information of the individual concerned, further details on this case cannot be released,” according to The Globe and Mail, a Canadian newspaper.
The coffee shop’s website reportedly also offered to arrange trips to North Korea, which is located across the border on the other side of the Yalu River. The Garratts reportedly moved to China in 1984 and opened the café in 2008, after working as teachers in the southern part of the country.
Howard Balloch, a former Canadian ambassador to China, reportedly said that while Beijing has rarely accused any Canadian of espionage before, he was not surprised by the move.
“Unfortunately over the years we’ve seen the violation of secrecy laws in China often abused for other political reasons. And while I would view such a step as retrograde, I wouldn’t be very surprised by it,” Balloch said, according to The Globe and Mail.
Last month, Su Bin, a Chinese national living in Vancouver, was denied bail by the province of British Columbia after the U.S. accused him of running a spy network and trying to gather information about Boeing-made military aircraft, South China Morning Post reported.