Canadian national has been sentenced to death for drug smuggling by a court in Liaoning province following a retrial which has been viewed by international observers as hasty, suspiciously-timed, and possibly political.
On Monday, Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, 36, was convicted by the Intermediate People’s Court of Dalian of smuggling over 222 kilograms of methamphetamine while serving as a “core member” of an international drug trafficking ring.
According to Globe and Mail Beijing correspondent Nathan VanderKlippe, Schellenberg and his lawyers were frequently interrupted by a prosecutor and the chief judge at the trial as they attempted to argue that Schellenberg was nothing more than a normal tourist who had accidentally got himself caught up in a cross-border drug smuggling conspiracy because of a man who he thought was his translator.
However, prosecutors argued that Schellenberg was the mastermind and the translator only a pawn, presenting phone and banking records to back up this assertion.
It took the court only an hour to arrive at a verdict and sentencing.
The court had originally found Schellenberg guilty of drug smuggling back in November, sentencing him to 15 years in prison and fining him 150,000 yuan ($22,000). However, the following month, the High People’s Court of Liaoning Province ordered a retrial after prosecutors called for Schellenberg to receive a harsher punishment because of the emergence of new evidence which showed his involvement in an international drug smuggling syndicate.
Schellenberg was arrested way back in December 2014 and has been in Chinese custody since then.
The high court hearing came after Canada’s arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou at the request of authorities in the US on December 1st. Meng’s arrest infuriated China which warned that Canada will face “serious consequences” if she was not quickly released. One week later,two Canadian nationalswere detained in China on suspicion of “engaging in activities harming China’s national security.”
In an unusual move, China’s propaganda office invited foreign reporters to attend both Schellenberg’s hearing and retrial.
How badly does China want coverage of the Schellenberg trial? I’m in Dalian, in a bus taking us to an offsite viewing room. An official said we couldn’t leave yet because “some US and British journalists signed up but haven’t arrived yet.”
— Nathan VanderKlippe (@nvanderklippe) January 13, 2019
I’ve been in Dalian today for the retrial of Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, my first ever Chinese court experience, equal parts fascinating and mind boggling.
Thread on my thoughts. Story in tweet attached. https://t.co/P2Ta3J7oND
— Elizabeth Law 思敏 (@lizzlaw_) January 14, 2019
China is known for handing out harsh sentences for drug crimes including the death penalty when substantial amounts of illicit substances are involved. Foreigners have been executed before in China for drug smuggling including a Pakistani-British businessman in 2009 who some argued had been tricked into smuggling heroin.
Former Canadian ambassador to China, Guy Saint-Jacques, told the Globe and Mail that at least two Canadian citizens have previously been executed in China for drug crimes, despite objections from previous Canadian prime ministers. Both of them were of Chinese origin though one had entered China on a Canadian passport.
Following news of Schellenberg’s sentence, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a short public statement, saying: “It is of extreme concern to us as a govt—as it should be to all our intl friends and allies—that China has chosen to begin to arbitrarily apply a death penalty… as in this case facing a Canadian.”
PM Trudeau on report that China has sentenced a Cdn to death in drug smuggling case:
"It is of extreme concern to us as a govt—as it should be to all our intl friends and allies—that China has chosen to begin to arbitrarily apply a death penalty" in case involving Cdn #cdnpoli pic.twitter.com/wW67OrmAXv
— CPAC (@CPAC_TV) January 14, 2019
Schellenberg can appeal the verdict within the next 10 days.