A Chinese court has upheld a death sentence against Canadian citizen Robert Schellenberg.
Schellenberg has been detained in China since 2014, when he was accused of attempting to smuggle 225kg of methamphetamine to Australia. He has maintained his innocence. In December 2018 he was sentenced to 15 years but after he appealed a retrial was ordered and the Dalian intermediate people’s court instead ordered his execution.
His case is one of at least two involving Canadian detainees expected to hear a result as early as Tuesday, in what observers and foreign governments have labeled “hostage diplomacy” by Chinese authorities over an ongoing extradition hearing in Canada for a Huawei executive wanted in the US.
On Tuesday morning a Chinese court in Shenyang rejected Schellenberg’s appeal against his death sentence on drug smuggling charges. According to the Globe and Mail, the decision is expected to prompt a mandatory review of his case by China’s equivalent of the supreme court.
Separately, another court is reportedly expected to deliver a sentence against Canadian Michael Spavor, a businessman who was charged with espionage alongside former diplomat Michael Kovrig and tried in secret in March after more than 830 days in detention.
The arrest of the men and the retrial of Schellenberg have been linked to Canada’s arrest of Chinese Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, which occurred just days earlier.
Meng was arrested at Vancouver airport on a US warrant in late 2018 over allegations she committed fraud by misleading HSBC about Huawei’s business dealings in Iran. The US alleges Huawei used a Hong Kong shell company to sell equipment to Iran, in violation of sanctions.
The ongoing extradition hearing in Canada has sent Canada-China relations plummeting.
Beijing denies its prosecution of Schellenberg, Spavor and Kovrig are retaliation for Meng’s arrest. Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has said the charges against the two Michaels are “trumped-up” and that Chinese officials were “very clear” the cases were connected.
Schellenberg’s sentencing prompted a travel warning from the Canadian government, over “the risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws”.
The two Michaels were tried in secret in March, at a two-hour hearing after which no verdict or sentence was announced. Canadian diplomats were denied access to the trial.
China’s court system is notoriously opaque, with conviction rates of about 99%.