China sentences Canadian man to death on drug charges

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The courthouse in Dalian where Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, 36, was sentenced on Monday. Photograph: Reuters

14 Jan 2019 | Lily Kuo | The Guardian

A Chinese court has sentenced a Canadian man to death over charges of drug smuggling after deeming his original sentence of 15 years in jail too lenient.

Robert Schellenberg, 36, was convicted in November of being an accessory to drug smuggling. An appeal backfired when in December the court ordered a retrial after prosecutors claimed new evidence showed Schellenberg played an important role in drug trafficking operations.

The Dalian intermediate people’s court in the north-eastern province of Liaoning sentenced Schellenberg to death after a one-day retrial, according to a statement on Monday.

“The evidence is compelling and ample, and the criminal charges are well founded,” the court said. It said Schellenberg could appeal to the Liaoning high court within 10 days of the judgment.

The sentence is expected to escalate diplomatic tensions between China and Canada. The Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, said Ottawa would continue to “engage strongly” with Beijing.

“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 said.

On 1 December, Canadian authorities arrested Meng Wanzhou, a senior Huawei executive and Chinese citizen, for extradition to the US. Critics say Beijing is using Schellenberg’s case to exert pressure on Ottawa.

Within weeks of Meng’s arrest, Chinese authorities detained a former diplomat, Michael Kovrig, and a businessman, Michael Spavor. Several other Canadians have been detained and deported.

Schellenberg, a former oilfield worker, has been detained since 2014 in a case that initially attracted little public attention. The court statement said Schellenberg was part of a failed attempt to smuggle 225kg of methamphetamine to Australia by hiding the drugs in tyres.

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Robert Schellenberg was sentenced last November to 15 years in prison, allegedly for being part of a plan to smuggle 220 kilograms of methamphetamines to Australia. When he appealed, the court ordered a retrial on more serious charges that allow for capital punishment. Handout

In December, authorities ordered a retrial and invited in foreign media, a rarity for Chinese courts, which normally go to great lengths to limit access.

Sophie Richardson, the China director for Human Rights Watch, said: “Beijing will have to answer to the world why this particular case against a citizen of a particular country had to be retried at this particular moment.”

Foreigners have been executed for drug-related crimes in China, but Schellenberg’s case is notable for its timing and the publicity Chinese authorities gave the retrial.

William Nee, a China researcher at Amnesty International, said: “This is all the more shocking given the rushed nature of the retrial, and the deliberate way in which the Chinese authorities drew attention to the case. When they actually invite the international press corps, it’s very unusual and a good sign the Chinese authorities sought to highlight the case for a political messaging purpose.”

Legal experts have raised questions about the case. Schellenberg was detained for more than a year before his first trial, in March 2016, and he was not sentenced for another 32 months. Yet the retrial was ordered within 16 days of the court’s appeal decision.

“Given that the prosecution apparently plans to make new allegations that would justify the imposition of a death sentence, such a brief time is utterly inadequate for the preparation of a meaningful defence,” wrote Donald Clarke, a professor of law at the George Washington University Law School and expert in Chinese law.

“The case appears to reinforce the message, previously suggested by the detentions of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, that China views the holding of human hostages as an acceptable way to conduct diplomacy,” Clarke wrote.

Original Link: China sentences Canadian man to death on drug charges

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