Canada and China ramp up war of words over Canadian’s death sentence

Michael Kovrig

Michael Kovrig

Police in the northeastern port city of Dalian said he was part of a conspiracy to hide 222 kilograms of methamphetamine inside tires and export them to Australia.

Two other Canadians, former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor, are also being held in China on unspecified allegations related to national security.

China has rejected accusations from Canada that it is arbitrarily applying a death sentence to a Canadian convicted of drug smuggling.

The Chinese press began publicising Schellenberg's case in December after Canada detained Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, on Dec 1 at the request of the US.

Lewis said the court was likely to confirm the sentence and the case would move up to the Supreme People's Court.

Justin Trudeau criticized the death penalty and China expressed "strong dissatisfaction" for the PM's comments. Britain and other countries were retaliated against over meetings with the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, considered a unsafe separatist by Beijing, and in 2014, a Canadian couple was detained in northeastern China and charged with espionage following Canada's arrest of a man accused of stealing US aviation secrets for China.

Former Canadian ambassador to China, Guy Saint-Jacques, told theGlobe and Mailthat at least two Canadian citizens have previously been executed in China for drug crimes, despite objections from previous Canadian prime ministers.

Since Meng's detention, China has arrested two Canadians in apparent retaliation.

Schellenberg's aunt, Lauri Nelson-Jones, said the family is awaiting any news regarding an appeal.

The sentence comes against the backdrop of Beijing's anger over the arrest in Canada of a top executive from telecom giant Huawei last month on a United States extradition request related to Iran sanctions violations.

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The move appears to be the latest in an escalating feud that began with the arrest of the Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Canada in early December at the request of the U.S., which has accused her of violating sanctions.

"I find it extremely odd that the authorities could sit on a case for nearly three years, and then within two weeks find "new" evidence to suddenly sentence a man to death", said William Nee, China researcher for Amnesty International.

He said Beijing's handling of the case shows its refusal to recognize the concept of an independent judiciary, something unknown in China, where the ruling Communist Party controls the courts.

"It's hard not to see a link" between the case and Canada's arrest of Meng, Saint-Jacques told The Associated Press news agency.

Chinese state media have reacted angrily to claims the death sentence is linked to Ms Meng's case.

Canada has updated its travel advice for China, urging citizens to "exercise a high degree of caution due to the risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws".

Worldwide rights groups condemned the sentence with some saying it was too severe and suggesting it may have been politically motivated.

Trudeau said last week that Chinese officials were not respecting Kovrig's diplomatic immunity.

Schellenberg's lawyer, Zhang Dongshuo, told Reuters that his client's sentence should not have been increased, because no new evidence had been presented at the retrial.

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