China has charged a Canadian citizen with spying and stealing state secrets, the Xinhua news agency reported Thursday.

Kevin Garratt was detained in 2014 along with his wife, who was later released on bail, in the northeastern Chinese city of Dandong, on the border with North Korea.

Kevin and Julia Garratt
Kevin and Julia Garratt with their children Peter and Hannah. Photo: CCTV.

“Chinese authorities also found evidence which implicates Garratt in accepting tasks from Canadian espionage agencies to gather intelligence in China,” Xinhua said, without giving further details.

Before their arrests Garratt and his wife, both Christians, had run a coffee shop in Dandong and been active in helping send humanitarian aid to impoverished North Korea.

China’s definition of state secrets can be very broad while North Korea is deeply suspicious of Christian proselytising activities, punishing them harshly.

The Garratts were detained one week after Canada accused China of hacking, prompting accusations that Beijing was investigating them as retaliation against Ottawa.

China passed a new “national security” law in July that was criticised by rights groups for the vague wording of its references to “security”, which raised fears it could give police wide-ranging discretionary powers over civil society.

Other foreign citizens have also run afoul of China’s powerful security officials.

Feng Xue, a Chinese-born US geologist who spent more than seven years in a Chinese prison after being convicted on state secrets charges, was released last year and deported.

Peter Dahlin
Peter Dahlin. Photo: Michael Caster.

Australian national Stern Hu, an executive with the mining giant Rio Tinto, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2010 on bribery and trade secrets charges.

Earlier this month Swedish activist Peter Dahlin was held on suspicion of endangering national security, apparently caught up in a crackdown on human rights lawyers.

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