Thursday, 17 January, 2019

China sentences Canadian to death, raises diplomatic tension

China says detained Canadian Michael Kovrig doesn't have diplomatic immunity China denies detained Canadian has diplomatic immunity
Melinda Barton | 14 January, 2019, 17:57

A Canadian man originally given 15 years in prison for drug smuggling was sentenced to death in China on Monday after a one-day retrial, the surprising verdict coming amid growing tensions between Beijing and Ottowa after the arrest of a top Chinese tech executive last month.

His case was then publicized by the Chinese press following the December 1 arrest of Huawei's chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, on USA charges related to doing business with Iran. He was tried in 2016 and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

He appealed against the sentence to the Liaoning High People's Court, where prosecutors argued the sentence was too lenient.

Canada detained Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, on December 1 at the request of the United States, raising tensions between Canada and China.

Before the retrial, Schellenberg's family had voiced fears that he would become a bargaining chip for Beijing to seek Ms Meng's release, Ms Nelson-Jones said.

Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, 36, was sentenced to death for drug smuggling.

Ottawa has said it was following the case "very closely".

In a statement, the court alleged he was involved in organized worldwide drug crimes.

On Friday, Donald Clarke, a specialist in Chinese law at George Washington University, said in a blog post that Schellenberg's case had several unusual features, including the delay in trial and sentencing, the rare decision for and extraordinary speed in scheduling a retrial, and invitations to worldwide media to observe the case.

"China has moved from merely detaining Canadians as hostages to actually threatening - subtly, to be sure - to kill a Canadian who would otherwise not have been executed if it does not get what it wants", Donald Clarke said.

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.

He said a friend recommended him a man named Xu Qing as a translator and he was swept up in what has turned out to be an worldwide drug trafficking syndicate.

But Chinese prosecutors said Schellenberg was the principal suspect in a case involving an global syndicate that planned to send some 222 kilogrammes (490 pounds) of methamphetamine to Australia.

The court was filled with about 70 observers who were patted down and made to empty pockets - receipts and stray coins were to be left at security. But Xu was presented as a witness by prosecutors.

Two other Chinese men were involved in the case - one was sentenced to life in jail, while the other was given a suspended death sentence.

"If no laws have been broken, I hope that these people can stop recklessly suspecting others of politicising legal issues just because they have done so".