Soon after Canada arrested Huawei CFO, China revived an old case against a Canadian detainee. On Monday, a Chinese court announced death sentence for the detainee. The Canadian government is viewing the sentence as arbitrary, further deepening diplomatic tension
China’s Dalian Intermediate People’s Court sentenced Canadian citizen, Robert Lloyd Schellenberg to death for smuggling drugs on Monday. The Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau has condemned the Chinese sentence that reversed a former 15-years imprisonment sentence given to Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, who was detained over four years ago.
This has escalated the ongoing China-Canada diplomatic row, which started with Canadian arrest of Chief Financial Officer of China’s telecommunications firm Huawei, Meng Wanzhou.
Soon after Canada arrested the Chinese senior executive officer in December last year, China detained former Canadian diplomat, Michael Kovrig. Apart from arresting the Northeast Asia analyst for the International Crisis Group think tank, who was said to be on leave of absence from the Canadian government during his arrest, China reopened the Robert Lloyd Schellenberg case. Schellenberg first went under trial in 2016 and in November 2018, he was sentenced to fifteen years in prison. He now has ten days to launch an appeal to the Liaoning High Court.
In a statement to the Canadian Broadcasting Company, Schellenberg’s aunt said, “It is rather unimaginable what he must be feeling and thinking. It is a horrific, unfortunate, heartbreaking situation.”
The sudden re-evaluation of the sentence and the former Canadian diplomat’s arrest last month is being viewed as retaliation by China for Meng Wanzhou’s arrest. China also arrested Canadian businessman Michael Spavor under allegation of harming national security.
Condemning the judgement, announced on Monday, by China’s Liaoning provincial court, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asserted, “It is of extreme concern to us as a government, as it should be to all our international friends and allies, that China has chosen to begin to arbitrarily apply a death penalty”.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry has asserted that Canada needs to respect China’s sovereignty, adding that it was “strongly dissatisfied” with the Canadian PM’s statement. Reportedly, China has been demanding the Huawei CFO’s release and the current situation may result in greater diplomatic tension between the two countries.
Canada has now updated its travel advice on China, asking all Canadian citizens to “exercise a high degree of caution due to the risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws”. While the Human Rights Watch Executive director, Kenneth Roth has tweeted, “Playing hostage politics, China rushes the retrial of a Canadian suspect and sentences him to death in a fairly transparent attempt to pressure Canada to free the Huawei CFO”.
PM Justin Trudeau had demanded that China acknowledge diplomatic immunity for Canadian detainee, Michael Kovrig. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying, however, responded to this by stating, “According to the Vienna Convention of Diplomatic Relations and international law, he is not entitled to diplomatic immunity”. He added, “I suggest that the relevant Canadian person carefully study the Vienna Convention… before commenting on the cases, or they would only expose themselves to ridicule with such specious remarks.”
Amid towering diplomatic friction, Hua Chunying clarified, “As long as the foreign citizens in China abide by Chinese laws and regulations, they are welcomed and their safety and freedom are guaranteed”.