China sentences Canadian man to death for drug smuggling

Michael Kovrig

Last month, a court ordered Schellenberg to be retried after he appealed a 15-year prison sentence for smuggling methamphetamines.

A Chinese court issued the death penalty in the retrial of a convicted Canadian drug trafficker, a sentence that is expected to sharply escalate China's diplomatic row with Canada and the United States.

Schellenberg has 10 days to appeal his sentence, the court said in a statement, which his lawyer Zhang Dongshuo told Reuters will most likely happen.

The man was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2016, but filed an appeal.

A general view of the Intermediate People's Court of Dalian, where the trial for Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, a Canadian citizen on drug smuggling charges, was held in Liaoning province, China.

For whatever reason China has suddenly begun working hard to push Schellenberg's case to global prominence, taking the highly unusual step of inviting foreign journalists into the court.

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"It is of extreme concern to us as a government, as it should be to all our worldwide friends and allies, that China has chosen to arbitrarily apply [the] death penalty", he said.

"The court completely rejects the accused person's explanation and defence because it is completely at odds with the facts", the chief judge said in a courtroom packed with observers - among them Canadian embassy officials and three foreign reporters, including one from AFP.

In a message to NPR, Schellenberg's aunt, Lauri Nelson-Jones, said, "All I can really say at this moment is, it is our worst case fear confirmed".

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

Schellenberg, who was to have been deported after serving his sentence, had lodged an appeal after being handed a 15-year sentence on November 20 in Dalian.

China has denied that it is using its legal system to take hostages as bargaining chips in the case of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, who is also the daughter of the company's founder.

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The court said it found that Schellenberg was involved in an global drug smuggling operation and was recruited to help smuggle more than 222 kilograms (488 pounds) of methamphetamine from a warehouse in Dalian city to Australia.

A death sentence anywhere in the world is a travesty but it is more so in places like China, where fair-trial rights remain at best elusive, said Sophie Richardson, China director of Human Rights Watch. China has executed foreign drug smugglers before: United Kingdom citizen Akmal Shaikh was put to death in 2009, despite protests from British authorities, for smuggling over four kilograms of heroin.

He added that he will continue to "engage strongly" with China over the case.

But Chinese prosecutors said he was the principal suspect in a case involving an global syndicate that planned to send some 222kg of methamphetamine to Australia, hidden in plastic pellets which were concealed in rubber tyres.

Drug smuggling is routinely punished severely in China.

Beijing considers the number of people executed in China each year to be a state secret.

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