China court sentences Canadian to death on drugs charges

January 15, 2019 09:08
The Intermediate People's Court of Dalian where a retrial was held for Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, a Canadian citizen charged with drug smuggling, and a death sentence handed out. Photo: Reuters

A Chinese court on Monday sentenced a Canadian man to be executed for drug smuggling, prompting Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to accuse China of using the death penalty arbitrarily, Reuters reports.

The Dalian Intermediate People’s Court in Liaoning province re-tried Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, who had appealed his original 15-year prison sentence, and decided on execution, the report said.

Schellenberg was told in court he had the right to appeal to Liaoning High Court within 10 days upon receiving the ruling.

The ruling, and Trudeau’s reaction, could aggravate already sour relations between Beijing and Ottawa following the arrest of a senior Chinese executive in Canada and China’s subsequent detention of two Canadians, Reuters noted.

“It is of extreme concern to us as a government, as it should be to all our international friends and allies, that China has chosen to begin to arbitrarily apply (the) death penalty ... as in this case,” Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa.

Schellenberg’s aunt, Lauri Nelson-Jones, said the family’s worst fears had been confirmed.

“Our thoughts are with Robert at this time. It is rather unimaginable what he must be feeling and thinking,” she said in a statement to Reuters.

“It is a horrific, unfortunate, heartbreaking situation. We anxiously anticipate any news regarding an appeal.”

According to Chinese prosecutors, Schellenberg had conspired with others in an attempt to smuggle 222 kg of methamphetamine from China to Australia in late 2014.

Schellenberg had argued in court that he was a tourist visiting China and that he had been framed by criminals, Chinese media have reported.

The Liaoning High Court in late December ordered the case retried after prosecutors said the sentence was too light and improper.

A lawyer for Schellenberg told Reuters his client would probably appeal against the death sentence.

China-Canada ties turned icy in early December after Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese telecoms giant Huawei Technologies, was arrested in Vancouver on a US extradition warrant.

China warned of unspecified consequences unless Meng was released, and detained Michael Kovrig, a Canadian diplomat on unpaid leave from the embassy in Beijing, and Michael Spavor, a Canadian consultant, on suspicion of endangering state security.

Beijing has not drawn a direct link between the detentions and the arrest of Meng, wanted by US authorities for allegedly misleading multinational banks about Iran-linked transactions.

Western diplomats in Beijing, however, say the cases are a tit-for-tat reprisal.

Earlier on Monday, China’s government dismissed Trudeau’s statement that Kovrig enjoyed some form of diplomatic immunity.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman said Trudeau should “earnestly study” the Vienna Convention governing diplomatic ties so as to “not become a laughing stock.”

Trudeau said Ottawa “will continue to engage strongly” with Beijing over Kovrig’s status and what he called China’s arbitrary use of justice.

Rights groups condemned the Schellenberg sentence while Guy St-Jacques, who was Canada’s ambassador in Beijing when Kovrig worked there, expressed concern at how quickly the courts had acted.

“The Canadian government will make representations in Beijing, but based on past experience I am not sure whether this will work,” he told Canadian broadcaster CBC. “We are in a very difficult place.”

Canada should immediately call for a top-level meeting of foreign policy and security advisers from the two nations “to impress upon the Chinese side that they have to abide by international law,” St-Jacques said.

William Nee of Amnesty International noted that drug-related offences did not meet the threshold of the “most serious crimes” to which the death penalty must be restricted under international law.

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