China changes Canadian's prison sentence to death amid Huawei tensions

14 January, 2019, 17:55 | Author: Myra Gill
  • China says detained Canadian Michael Kovrig doesn't have diplomatic immunity

A Chinese court on Monday sentenced Canadian Robert Lloyd Schellenberg to death for drug trafficking in a dramatic turn of events that will further strain ties between Beijing and Ottawa.

Schellenberg, a Canadian drug smuggler, was sentenced to death at the Dalian Intermediate People's Court in northeast China's Liaoning Province, state-run Xinhua news agency reported on Monday night.

China also has detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig, who now works for a foreign think tank, and Canadian businessman Michael Spavor, in what is widely considered to be retaliation for Meng's arrest.

Schellenberg was arrested in 2014 and received his initial 15-year sentence last November, months after his trial began in 2016. But following an appeal a high court in Liaoning ruled in December that the sentence was too lenient given the severity of his crimes.

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. "It's clear that Chinese courts are not independent, and by systematic design, courts can be influenced by Communist Party officials", he said.

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

China has executed other foreigners for drug-related crimes in the past, including a Japanese national in 2014 and a Filipino in 2013.


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 global media to observe the case.

In the weeks following her seizure, Chinese authorities detained two Canadians living in China on suspicion of national security crimes.

"I came to China as a tourist", Schellenberg, said in his final statement before the sentence was announced.

The Chinese foreign ministry said Friday critics "can stop recklessly suspecting others of politicising legal issues just because they have done so". Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau criticized China for "not respecting the principles of diplomatic immunity" in Kovrig's arrest. He said a friend recommended a man named Xu Qing as a translator. Schellenberg will have the right to appeal the sentence, according to Reuters.

Chinese prosecutors say that Schellenberg was part of an global syndicate which planned to send some 222kg of methamphetamine to Australia, hidden within plastic pellets concealed in rubber tyres.

Two other Chinese men have been involved in this case - one was sentenced to life imprisonment, another handed a suspended death sentence.

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