'We're gonna get you home': Michael Kovrig's former bandmates strike a chord for his freedom
TORONTO -- A musical campaign for former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig’s release from a Chinese prison is gaining support.
Long before Kovrig went into the diplomatic service, he was the frontman for the Budapest-based band named Bankrupt, who recently released a song called "The Plane to Toronto" to raise awareness about his plight.
“We wanted to capture this moment when he’s finally free and heading home to Toronto on the plane,” Balazs Sarkadi, the band’s singer and bass player, told CTV News on Wednesday.
Kovrig was arrested in China along with Canadian Michael Spavor in December 2018. Both men were charged with espionage and put on trial this year.
Concerned about the potential outcome of the trial and his years of imprisonment, the band wants to try and garner more support to help get Kovrig released by crowdsourcing a video to go with the song.
“We really wanted some positive sense and positive energy to get people to show some solidarity towards him,” Sarkadi said.
“Hold on, please, we’re gonna get you home,” he sings in the catchy pop song. “It’s been a long time, but you’ve never been alone. You’ve gotta know bad times won’t last forever. In no time, I know, you’ll be on the plane to Toronto.”
Response to the song has been good, Sarkadi said Thursday. And the band hopes to release the video in the coming weeks.
Sept. 4 will mark the 1,000-day anniversary of Kovrig’s imprisonment.
His arrest came shortly after Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Shenzhen, China-based Huawei, was detained in Vancouver on a U.S. Justice Department request in December 2018.
Meng is wanted on allegations that she misled The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited (HSBC) about Huawei's relationship with another company, putting the bank at risk of violating American sanctions against Iran. The final weeks of the U.S. extradition hearings are now underway in Vancouver. Huawei and Meng, who is free to move about while under house arrest in her mansion in the city, deny any wrongdoing.
In the meantime, Kovrig, who faces a possible life sentence, remains in prison.
Sarkadi said he was shocked when he found out Kovrig, who played with the band from 1996 to 1999, was arrested.
The friends kept in touch over the years while Kovrig studied, became a diplomat and then went on to work with the International Crisis Group, with whom he was working when he was arrested in Beijing.
In fact, Kovrig visited Budapest in 2017, and even joined his former bandmates on stage for a song.
“It was a very nice reunion,” Sarkadi said. “He’s a really cool guy, doing everyday stuff.”
But Sarkadi misses his friend and wants people to try and encourage the government to help Kovrig.
Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau was not available to comment on the matter on Thursday.
Grantly Franklin, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, said the release of Kovrig and Spavor remains a priority.
“We have always been very clear that Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor are being unjustly and arbitrarily detained,” Franklin said. “We continue to call on China to immediately release both men. Canada continues to provide consular support to Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor and their families during this unacceptable ordeal.”
Vina Nadjibulla, Kovrig’s wife, said she’s grateful for the band’s initiative.
“Michael loves music,” she said. “It's been a big part of his life and he continues to rely on song lyrics as part of his resilience routine even now.
“But as important as solidarity efforts are, our main focus must remain on actions that will lead to his liberation and calling on the Canadian government, in particular, to do everything possible to bring him home.”