A Canadian citizen has been sentenced to death by a Chinese court for his alleged role in a drug ring that attempted to export methamphetamine to Australia. The Dalian Intermediate People’s Court in China’s northeast province of Liaoning handed down the death sentence against Robert Lloyd Schellenberg of Abbotsford, B.C. in a hastily staged retrial of an earlier conviction on the charges.
In November, Schellenberg was convicted of conspiring to smuggle 489 pounds of methamphetamine from China to Australia in 2014. He appealed the conviction, saying that he was a traveler who was being framed by a crime syndicate. In December prosecutors said that his sentence was improper and too lenient and the court ordered a retrial. Schellenberg was retried and convicted again and sentenced to death. He is expected to appeal the sentence.
Caught in Diplomatic Squabble
International relations experts believe that Schellenberg has been caught up in an international dispute over the arrest of a Chinese executive in Canada. In December, Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of the Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei Technologies, was arrested in Vancouver at the request of the United States. Although details of Meng’s release have not been released, the U.S. is currently investigating Huawei for possible violations of international sanctions imposed against Iran. Meng is currently free on bail in Canada while she fights extradition to the United States.
China has denounced Meng’s arrest and warned of consequences if she is not released. Two Canadian citizens traveling in China have since been arrested on suspicion of endangering state security.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that Schellenberg’s case should cause concern among governments around the world.
“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 facing a Canadian,” Trudeau said.
Former Canadian ambassador to China Guy Saint-Jacques said that the speediness of Schellenberg’s retrial coupled with the international dispute lead him to suspect that the death sentence was predetermined.
“I think it shows clearly that they wanted to apply the rules maybe with more zeal than they would have otherwise,” Saint-Jacques said.
“The other thing that I think has to be noticed is the fact that they invited foreign journalists to attend the trial,” the former diplomat added. “They claimed that it’s for transparency purposes. Well, if that is the case, they could have started doing that years ago. I think all this was orchestrated.”
Saint-Jacques believes that if the death sentence is appealed the Canadian government will attempt to intervene on Schellenberg’s behalf but that “based on past experience, I’m not sure if this will work.”
William Nee, an Amnesty International researcher on China, said that he was horrified by the death sentence.
“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 this case,” Nee said.
Sophie Richardson, the China director for Human Rights Watch said that she is expecting an international outcry.
“China is going to face lots of questions about why this particular person, of this particular nationality, had to be retried at this particular time,” Richardson said.
Lauri Nelson-Jones, Schellenberg’s aunt, said that his sentence is the “worst-case fear confirmed.”
“Our thoughts are with Robert at this time,” said Nelson-Jone. “It is rather unimaginable what he must be feeling and thinking. It is a horrific, unfortunate, heartbreaking situation. We anxiously anticipate any news regarding an appeal.”