NEWS
08/05/2014 04:57 EDT | Updated 10/05/2014 05:59 EDT

Kevin and Julia Dawn Garratt 'all right,' Chinese officials tell son

Chinese officials are reassuring the family of a Canadian couple detained over allegations they stole China's state secrets that they're being looked after, the couple's son says. 

Kevin and Julia Dawn Garratt are being held in an undisclosed location in Dundong, China, as they're investigated for stealing Chinese military and intelligence information. The pair own a coffee shop in Dundong, on the border between China and North Korea, and have lived in China for decades.

Peter Garratt, in an interview with CBC Radio's As It Happens, said Chinese officials spoke to him Tuesday, but won't let him see his parents. He lives with his parents in Dundong and said he hopes to be allowed to speak to them by phone on Wednesday, but that the officials told him that he wouldn't be allowed to talk to them about the case.

"They told me my parents were all right and that they’re being looked after and they also told me to make sure that I look after myself and get a good sleep and eat and stuff like that," he said in an interview to air at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Garratt said he was also told not to speak to reporters, but he agreed to be interviewed because "I feel it’s better people know what’s going on."

China's state secrets law is notoriously broad, covering everything from industry data to the exact birth dates of state leaders. Information can also be labelled a state secret retroactively. In severe cases, the theft of state secrets is punishable with life in prison or the death penalty.

Questioned about couple's work

Complicating matters is the couple's religion: the Garratts are Christians and had a Bible on the bookshelf in the shop, leading to speculation they may be under persecution because of their religion.

"My parents are Christian, yes, and they don’t hide that, but they aren’t doing anything against the Chinese government or trying to proselytize or anything like that," Peter Garratt said. 

The Chinese officials asked him whether his parents had any other jobs aside from running the coffee shop. His father also works with an aid organization that provides help to orphanages and seniors' homes in North Korea.

In an interview with CBC News Network, Simeon Garratt, ​another of the couple's sons who grew up in China but now lives in Vancouver, said it's possible his parents are caught up in a diplomatic dispute between Canada and China. Last week, Canadian officials alleged the Chinese government was behind a "highly sophisticated" cyber attack on the National Research Council. Simeon Garratt called it "a political mess" and said it's nothing to do with them.

"I think it’s just the relations between Canada and China right now are quite heated, especially over all the hacking accusations that have gone on over the last two weeks," he said.

Michel Juneau-Katsuya, an expert in cybersecurity and Chinese hacking, said the Chinese may have felt they had to retaliate against the Canadian allegations.

"Because they are Christian they are a certain irritant, because they are foreigners in an isolated area, they are a certain irritant, and because also we have accused the Chinese of spying on us, they are capable of sort of bullying us in the same perspective," Juneau-Katsuya said.

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