A deadly turn in diplomatic feud

Caught in between: Schellenberg on trial at the Dalian Intermediate People’s Court in China.

Tension escalates between China and Canada after a Canadian was retried for drug trafficking. Originally sentenced to 15 years’ jail, he now faces execution. 

A COURT decision to execute a drug trafficker instead of the jail time handed out just two months earlier, has worsened China’s diplomatic row with Canada.

Following a retrial last Monday, the Dalian Intermediate People’s Court in the north-eastern Liaoning province issued a death sentence to Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, a 36-year-old Canadian convicted of smuggling over 222kg of methamphetamine.

Schellenberg was arrested in 2014 and sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment last November.

On Jan 2, the court received a sup­plemental indictment from prosecutors and subsequently conducted the retrial, in which it revised and imposed the heavier sentence based on new facts and evidence of the accused operating an international drug trafficking ring.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has accused China of arbitrarily applying the death penalty on Schellenberg and says that the move was politically motivated.

It is hard for anybody outside China to believe that the death sentence has nothing to do with the China-Canada diplomatic dispute sparked by the arrest of Chinese national Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on Dec 1, 2018.

Meng, chief financial officer of Chinese telecom equipment giant Huawei, was detained by Canada at the request of the US authorities over the company’s alleged violation of American sanctions on technology sales to Iran. She is currently out on bail but remains in Canada, awaiting word on possible extradition to the US.

In what some foreign media outlets see as retaliation, China on Dec 10 detained two Canadians – former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor – on the suspicion that they have engaged in activity that endangered national security.

Under Chinese law, those convicted of smuggling, trafficking, transporting or manufacturing more than 1kg of opium, over 50g of heroin or methamphetamine, or large quantities of other drugs can be sentenced to death.

According to China Daily, Schel­len­berg’s criminal record dates back to 2003, when he received a six-month sentence for drug trafficking. He was also sentenced to two years in jail by a Canadian court for the same offence in 2012.

Schellenberg’s lawyer said they would appeal the death sentence.

Under the Criminal Procedure Law, the provincial high people’s court will hear the appeal. If that court upholds the death penalty, the sentence must be submitted to the Supreme People’s Court, the apex court, for a final review before it can be carried out.

Malaysia is among countries that impose the mandatory death penalty for various offences which includes drug trafficking, child rape and murder.

When I was crime reporter, I helplessly watched crime victims and families of such victims suffer and break down. I believe that such grief and pain cannot be healed no matter how much time has passed.

I have also covered cases of people seeking pardons for death row prisoners or requesting help from the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam), arguing that the death penalty is inhumane and no one should be executed.

These were my only questions: “Did the victims deserve to die? Were they killed or treated humanely?”

I have always said human rights are meant for humans only and these hardcore criminals can file their complaints with the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals).

Just three months ago, the Malaysian Government said it would table a Bill to abolish the death penalty, which means these criminals could stay in jail for life, living on the hard-earned money of taxpayers, including their victims and families.

And I wonder which punishment is more severe – to die or lose one’s freedom forever?

On Schellenberg’s sentence, Chin­ese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying was asked if the death sentence was inhumane and inappropriate. She responded by asking if it is humane and appropriate to allow drugs to ruin lives.

“How many lives could 222kg of drugs claim and how many families could be robbed of their happiness?” she said.

Both Canada and China have issued travel advisories for each other. Beijing has warned its citizens that they could face “arbitrary detention” in Canada at the request of a third-party country, while Ottawa has alerted its people to the risk of “arbitrary enforcement of local laws”.

Through the opium wars, China has learned its lesson on the toll of drugs the hard way. It has shown no compromise and has consistently taken a hard line against illicit drugs.

Singer-songwriter Chen Yufan, a member of Chinese popular duo Yu Quan, made headlines for drug-related cases last year. The 44-year-old was arrested following the seizure of nearly 8g of methamphetamine and over 2g of marijuana from his Beijing home. He was also tested positive for both drugs.

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