Just a few days after Swedish human rights worker Peter Dahlin was expelled from China for “endangering state security,” Beijing has turned its attention back to an old target, Canadian activist and (former) coffee shop owner Kevin Garratt.
Garratt was detained along with his wife, Julia, back in August 2014 on charges of working with Canadian espionage agencies to spy and steal state secrets at the China-North Korea border. A statement from China’s Foreign Ministry reads:
The pair are suspected of collecting and stealing intelligence materials related to Chinese military targets and defense research programs and engaging in activities that endanger China’s national security.
Garratt is a Canadian Christian activist who helped to provide humanitarian aid to North Koreans. He and his wife had lived in China for some 30 years and together they ran the best damn Canadian coffee shop on the border — Peter’s Coffee Shop — in the border town of Dandong in northeastern Liaoning province.
Xinhua reported late yesterday evening that after more than a year in detention, Garratt has been formally indicted by prosecutors in Dandong.
Garratt’s wife was released on bail back in February of 2015, though she had been barred from leaving China for a year. Meanwhile, her husband was moved to another facility.
At the time of the pair’s detention, the Garratts’ oldest son, Simeon, told reporters that there was “no possible scenario I can think of that makes it plausible” that his parents would be working to steal military secrets.
Instead, the Garratt family believe that Kevin and Julia were targeted because of their religious beliefs.
“I think they’re just persecuting him because he’s a Christian and he was helping out the people over there,” Garratt’s father said.
Simeon Garratt said that his parents would often send goods, including oil and cooking supplies, to North Korea to “help basically what they feel is a group of people that have been severely neglected.”
In an audio file posted on the website of the Terra Nova church in Surrey, British Columbia, Kevin Garratt told the congregation in November 2013 that God told them to go to Dandong and open a coffee house.
“We serve the best coffee on the border… and we do some other things too,” he said. “We’re trying to reach North Korea with God, with Jesus and practical assistance.”