VANCOUVER (Reuters) - The son of a Canadian couple detained in China on charges of espionage said the family had hired a lawyer in Beijing because the Canadian government had not been able to help the family visit or communicate with his father, a Christian aid worker.
Kevin and Julia Garratt, who ran a coffee shop on the Chinese border with North Korea, were detained Aug. 4 on suspicion they stole state secrets and for threatening national security.
“We have brought on legal counsel in Beijing as of today. We will be pressuring the authorities to allow us our legal visit. The embassy has done all it can so now we are taking a bit more control,” Simeon Garratt, who lives in Vancouver, told Reuters on Thursday.
He said the family had received one letter from his mother, and sent one, but had not been able to communicate with his father and were concerned about his high blood pressure.
“She said ‘I am fine’ and then wished my grannie a happy birthday and told my brother to make sure he looks after my sister,” Simeon Garratt, 27, said.
The couple, from Vancouver, had opened a cafe called Peter’s Coffee House in Dandong, an important gateway to reclusive North Korea, in 2008. Their son Peter Garratt, 21, also lives in China, while two sisters and Simeon Garratt live in Canada.
Peter Garratt said last week a Canadian representative had met with each of his parents for 30 minutes and they had passed on messages saying they were safe.
But Simeon Garratt said the family was concerned about the health of his 54-year-old father, and had not been able to communicate with him. He hoped his brother, who had traveled to Beijing to meet with lawyers, would get another chance to exchange letters.
“He had been informed by authorities that he may be able to write a second letter to my mum so he is now on his way back (to Dandong),” Simeon Garratt said.
The investigation into the Garratts, who have lived in China for 30 years, began a week after Canada took the unusual step of singling out Chinese hackers for attacking a key computer network and lodged a diplomatic protest with Beijing.
It is unusual for foreigners to be charged with violating China’s state secrets law - a serious crime that is punishable by life in prison or death in the most severe cases.
The Garratts’ sons have said they do not believe their parents’ religious beliefs led to their detainment.
Simeon Garratt said his father, Kevin, started a human rights non governmental organization to do aid work inside North Korea and traveled there regularly, while his mother, Julia Garratt, taught at a local university and helped run the coffee shop.
Reporting by Andrea Hopkins; Editing by Amran Abocar and Bernadette Baum