Published: Mon, January 14, 2019
Worldwide | By Isabel Fisher

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

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

A Chinese court on Monday sentenced a Canadian national Robert Lloyd Schellenberg to death for his alleged involvement in smuggling drugs amid increasing tensions between Canada and China over the recent arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

China's strict drug laws apply a sentence of "15 years, life imprisonment or death" as well as property confiscation for drug trafficking in amounts over a kilogram.

The case has been condemned by Western legal experts and Schellenberg's relatives, who say that China is using Schellenberg as a bargaining chip in its efforts to free a top technology executive detained in Canada.

Last month, a court ordered Schellenberg to be retried after he appealed a 15-year prison sentence for smuggling methamphetamines. But last month an appeals court agreed with prosecutors who said the sentence was too lenient. Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou was arrested at the Vancouver airport on December 1 at the request of the United States, which wants her extradited to face fraud charges.

Courts heard an appeal of that conviction on December 29, 2018, and ordered a retrial for Monday, raising the possibility of a harsher sentence.

He was originally detained in China in 2014, with a trial that began in 2016.

"After verifying the evidence, the court determined that the case is strong and Schellenberg is the principal culprit", the report said.

China has executed other foreigners for drug-related crimes in the past.

Chinese authorities also arrested two Canadians, Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat, and Michael Spavor, a businessman.

"It's clear that Chinese courts are not independent, and by systematic design, courts can be influenced by Communist Party officials", William Nee, China researcher at Amnesty International, told AFP.

Earlier in the day Schellenberg told the court that he had been framed when prosecutors pushed for a harsher sentence in a case which could further exacerbate tensions between the US, Canada and China.

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

In an opening statement, Schellenberg said he had come to China after travelling through Southeast Asia, including Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.

Prosecutors brought in Xu as a witness, who in close to two hours of testimony never once turned to look at Schellenberg.

Beijing has repeatedly denied any diplomatic pressure behind Schellenberg's case.

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