Canadian drug smuggler to appeal China death sentence Thursday

Beijing (AFP) –


A Canadian man handed the death penalty for drug smuggling in China will appeal his sentence Thursday, in a case that has deepened the diplomatic rift between Beijing and Canada.

The appeal comes against the backdrop of Beijing's anger over the December arrest of Meng Wanzhou, a senior executive at Chinese tech giant Huawei, who faces a US extradition hearing in Canada on Wednesday.

Robert Lloyd Schellenberg was sentenced to death on drug trafficking charges in January.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau denounced the decision as "arbitrarily" chosen.

Schellenberg's appeal will take place Thursday morning at the Dalian Intermediate People's Court in northeastern Liaoning province, a source familiar with the case told AFP.

The Dalian court declined to comment. The provincial level Liaoning High People's Court did not immediately respond to AFP's request for comment.

China will "protect the legal rights" of Schellenberg during his lawsuit, said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang at a press briefing.

"China is a country ruled by law," he said.

But Ottawa remains "extremely concerned that China has chosen to apply the death penalty, a cruel and inhumane punishment," Canadian foreign ministry spokeswoman Brittany Fletcher said in an email to AFP.

Canadian officials plan to attend Thursday's hearing.

"Canada has requested, and will continue to seek, clemency for Mr Schellenberg," she said.

Schellenberg was originally sentenced to 15 years in prison and a 150,000 yuan ($22,000) forfeiture in November.

But following an appeal, the high court in Liaoning ruled in December that the sentence was too lenient given the severity of his crimes.

About a month later, his sentence was changed to capital punishment.

China has executed foreigners for drug-related crimes in the past, including a Japanese national in 2014, a Filipina in 2013, and a Briton in 2009.

Last week, another Canadian, Fan Wei, was sentenced to death for drug trafficking in a separate case in southern China.

- Canadians arrested -

Schellenberg's case is seen as potential leverage for Meng, who was arrested on a US extradition request related to Iran sanctions violations -- a link that Beijing has repeatedly denied.

Following the Huawei executive's arrest in December, China detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor, in what observers saw as retaliation.

Days after Canada launched the extradition process against Meng in March, China announced it suspected Kovrig of spying and stealing state secrets. It alleged fellow Canadian Spavor had provided him with intelligence.

Both men have been denied access to lawyers and allowed only monthly consular visits.

Meng is free on bail in Vancouver as the extradition process continues.

The diplomatic row appears to have has spilled over into the economic arena: China has banned Canadian canola shipments worth billions of dollars.

Beijing has punished other countries with trade sanctions over diplomatic spats in the past.