China releases Canadian woman, husband held on spy charge: Govt

BEIJING - China has released on bail a Canadian woman under investigation for undermining state security while her husband has been detained on spying charges, Beijing said Thursday, six months after they were held.

Kevin Garratt and Julia Dawn Garratt, a Christian couple who ran a coffee shop in the Chinese city of Dandong, on the border with North Korea, were detained last August, drawing international condemnation.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Julia Garratt was "granted bail pending trial" on Tuesday by national security authorities in Dandong.

Kevin Garratt was placed in criminal detention the same day "on the charge of spying and stealing state secrets", Hong said, adding that both Garratts are suspected of "committing activities undermining China's state security".

"The relevant case is under investigation. The Chinese government will protect their lawful rights and interests in accordance with law," Hong added.

The probe into the couple was announced one week after Canada accused China of hacking into its research and development arm, prompting accusations that Beijing was investigating them as retaliation against Ottawa.

The case has strained Sino-Canadian ties, with Ottawa threatening to cancel a visit to Beijing by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in November over the issue. Harper ultimately relented.

The Garratts first moved to China in the 1980s and have been active in helping send humanitarian aid to impoverished North Korea, where authorities are deeply suspicious of Christian proselytising and punish it harshly.

Kevin Garratt has told congregations in Canada: "God said, in a prayer meeting, go to Dandong and I'll meet you there, and he said start a coffee house.

"We're China-based, we're North Korea-focused, but we're Jesus-centred." Authorities have ordered Julia Garratt to remain in mainland China for one year, barring her from leaving the country, according to a statement released by the family through their Beijing-based lawyer, James Zimmerman.

Kevin Garratt has been moved to a detention centre "at an unknown location", the statement said, adding that the couple had not been formally arrested, no charges filed, and "no evidence of any crime" provided.

Family members of the couple welcomed the release but said they remained "deeply concerned" that Kevin Garratt was still being held.