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China upholds death sentence for Canadian convicted amid tensions

China upholds death sentence for Canadian convicted amid tensions
A Canadian flag flies at the Canadian Embassy in Beijing. A Chinese court issued a death sentence to Robert Lloyd Schellenberg of Canada for drug smuggling. On Tuesday, a Chinese court upheld that sentence, attracting condemnation from Ottawa. File Photo by Roman Pilipey/EPA-EFE

Aug. 10 (UPI) -- A Chinese court on Tuesday upheld the death sentence of a Canadian citizen convicted of drug trafficking amid a political row between the two countries.

The Liaoning High People's Court announced in a statement Tuesday that it has rejected the appeal of Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, who was arrested in 2014, accused of smuggling hundreds of pounds of methamphetamine into the country.

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Schellenberg originally received a 15-year prison term in 2018 but it was changed to a death sentence at a one-day retrial in January 2019, a month after Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei, at the direction of the United States over obstruction of justice, sanctions violations and other charges.

Following Meng's detention at the Vancouver airport, China also separately arrested two other Canadians, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, on espionage charges that have been widely viewed as politically motivated.

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At least three other Canadian citizens -- Fan Wei, Xu Weihong and Ye Jianhui -- have been sentenced to death in separate drug cases since 2019.

Schellenberg, who has maintained his innocence, was convicted of trafficking some 490 pounds of methamphetamine into the country with others, and the high court on Tuesday said a panel "held that the facts found in the first instance were clear, the evidence was reliable and sufficient, the conviction was accurate, the sentence was appropriate and the trial procedures were legal."

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Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau issued a statement following the ruling, saying that Canada "strongly condemns China's decision to uphold the death penalty sentence against Robert Schellenberg."

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"We have repeatedly expressed to China our firm opposition to this cruel and inhumane punishment and will continue to engage with Chinese officials at the highest levels to grant clemency to Mr. Schellenberg," he said. "We oppose the death penalty in all cases, and condemn the arbitrary nature of Mr. Schellenberg's sentence."

Dominic Barton, Canada's ambassador to China, said in a video posted to the embassy's Twitter account from outside the court that the decision is to be reviewed by the Supreme People's Court.

"At this stage, at this moment in this case, our thoughts are with Robert and his family; it's obviously a very difficult time to deal with that news, so we're thinking about them in this," he said.

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"Canada condemns this verdict on all possible terms," he said, calling the punishment "cruel and unusual."

The foreign ministry also thanked Australia, France, Germany and the United States, all of whom sent representatives to the court.

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