BEIJING: A Chinese court sentenced a Canadian man to death on Monday in a sudden retrial in a drug smuggling case that is likely to escalate tensions between the countries over the arrest of a top Chinese technology executive.
The court in Liaoning province announced that it had given Robert Lloyd Schellenberg the death penalty after rejecting his plea of innocence and convicting him of being an accessory to drug smuggling. It gave no indication that the penalty could be commuted, but Schellenberg’s fate is likely to be drawn into diplomatic negotiations over China’s demand for the top executive’s release.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in Ottawa that he is extremely concerned that China chose to “arbitrarily” apply the death penalty to a Canadian citizen. In his strongest comments yet against China, Trudeau said “all countries around the world” should be concerned that Beijing is acting arbitrarily with its justice system.
Schellenberg was detained more than four years ago and initially sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2016. But suddenly last month, an appeals court agreed with prosecutors who said the sentence was too lenient, and scheduled Monday’s retrial with just four days’ notice.
The Chinese press began publicising Schellenberg’s case in December after Canada detained Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, on Dec 1 at the request of the US.
Since then, China has arrested two Canadians in apparent retaliation for Meng’s arrest. Both Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat, and Michael Spavor, a businessman, were arrested on vague national security allegations. A Canadian teacher was detained but released.
Schellenberg’s lawyer, Zhang Dongshuo, said his client now has 10 days to appeal.
Zhang said he argued in the one-day trial on Monday that there was insufficient evidence to prove his client’s involvement in the drug smuggling operation. He added that prosecutors had not introduced new evidence to justify a heavier sentence.
“This is a very unique case,” Zhang told The Associated Press in a phone interview. He said the swiftness of the proceedings with a retrial held so soon after it was ordered was unusual, but declined to comment on whether it was related to Meng’s arrest.
The court said it found that Schellenberg was involved in an international drug smuggling operation and was recruited to help smuggle more than 222kgs of methamphetamine from a warehouse in Dalian city to Australia.
Earlier on Monday, a Chinese spokeswoman said Kovrig, the former Canadian diplomat detained in December, does not enjoy diplomatic immunity, rejecting a complaint from Trudeau that the man’s rights were being denied.
Trudeau said last week that Chinese officials were not respecting Kovrig’s diplomatic immunity. However, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters that Kovrig is no longer a diplomat and entered China on an ordinary passport and business visa.