A Chinese court has sentenced a Canadian to death over charges of drug smuggling, after deeming his original sentence of 15 years “too lenient”, as the tensions between the two countries continue to mount.
Robert Schellenberg, 36, was convicted in November of being an accessory to drug smuggling and sentenced to prison time. Prosecutors appealed, claiming new evidence implicated Schellenberg in an “important role” in drug trafficking operations.
The Dalian intermediate peoples court in the northeastern province of Liaoning agreed with prosecutors, issuing a judgment sentencing the Canadian to death, according to a statement on Monday.
It said Schellenberg could appeal to the Liaoning high court within 10 days of receiving his judgment.
The case is expected to escalate diplomatic tensions between China and Canada.
On 1 December, Canadian authorities arrested a senior Huawei executive and Chinese citizen, Meng Wanzhou, for extradition to the US. Critics say Beijing is using Schellenbergs case to exert pressure on Ottawa.
Within weeks of Mengs arrest, Chinese authorities detained a former diplomat, Michael Kovrig, and a businessman, Michael Spavor. Several other Canadians have been detained and deported.
Schellenberg, 36, has been detained since 2014 in a case that attracted little public notice.
In December, authorities ordered a retrial and invited foreign media, a rarity for Chinese courts which normally go to great lengths to bar foreign media.
“Beijing will have to answer to the world why this particular case against a citizen of a particular country had to be retried at this particular moment,” said Sophie Richardson, China director for Human Rights Watch.
Foreigners have been executed for drug-related crimes in China, but Shellenbergs case is notable for its timing and the publicity Chinese authorities gave the retrial.
“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 the case,” said William Nee, China researcher at Amnesty International.
“When they actually invite the international press corps its very unusual, and a good sign the Chinese authorities sought to highlight the case for a political messaging purpose.”