TORONTO – An aide to Michael Kovrig says he is “thrilled” to hear that the Canadian is finally home after more than 1,000 days in China’s detention.
“It’s hard to describe, but I am more thrilled for him and his family than anyone else,” Praveen Madhiraju told Granthshala news channel on Saturday. “It’s been a long time and we’re thrilled to have this next chapter.”
Kovrig and fellow Canadian Michael Spavor both landed at Calgary International Airport on Saturday morning. Later that afternoon, Kovrig arrived in Toronto, welcomed on the tarmac by his wife and sister at Pearson Airport. He spoke briefly to the journalists present on the spot and thanked them for their support.
“It’s wonderful to be back home in Canada. I’m so grateful to everyone who worked so hard to get the two of us back home,” Kovrig told reporters.
Since December 2018, two men have been detained while facing espionage charges that came not long after Canadian authorities – responding to a US extradition request – in Vancouver a few days earlier. Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou arrested.
While China has consistently denied that the cases were in any way connected, a B.C. judge dismissed the extradition case against Meng on Friday after US Justice Department officials called for a trial to resolve criminal charges against him. Agreements were reached, allowing Meng to enter into a deferred prosecution agreement. and leave Canada under certain conditions.
On the same day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed that both Michaels were on a flight back to Canada.
Madhiraju worked with Kovrig at Crisis Group, an international foreign policy think tank. Kovrig, a former diplomat, was working in China as the group’s Northeast Asia adviser before his arrest.
“All our employees have been focusing on Michael’s release on this day since December 2018, for over 1,000 days,” Madhiraju said.
“Not a day had gone by since his detention that a large part of our staff had not thought of him.”
crisis group too issued a statement On Saturday, Canadian diplomats lauded the efforts of Canadian diplomats to secure his release and expressed relief, saying the Chinese government had “corrected this wrong.”
The group said, “Michael, we are very proud of you. We are very proud to be part of the Crisis Group family. You are an inspiration to all of us. Welcome home.”
Madhiraju says that Kovrig “made the best of himself” while in custody.
“Throughout his time, he focused a lot on discipline to keep himself mentally and physically fit. And that led to a lot of grace and humility and concern and care for humanity and others,” he said.
“I guess it tells you more about Michael than I can tell you.”
Michael Purity, who went to college with Spavor, was so excited to hear the news of his friend’s release that he danced in celebration.
Purity said Spavor’s positive attitude helped him stay afloat during his detention.
He told Granthshala news channel on Saturday, “I think if there was someone who could pull it off and come out with a smile on his face and a gentle attitude about life, I think he would Might be Michael Spavor.”
Purity revealed that Spavor, who taught English in North Korea and is one of the few Westerners who have actually met Kim Jong-un, was also a character on one of the country’s TV sitcoms.
“It takes a special kind of man,” said Purity. “He’s just a man with a big smile and a big heart, and that’s the truth about him.”
He said Spavor’s release is good news for all Canadians.
“Another man free is a big deal for Canada, so freedom always wins and we just need to keep hope and faith,” he said.