Canadian Faces Death Penalty for Alleged Drug Smuggling in China amid Huawei Arrest

Flags of Canada and China are placed for the first China-Canada economic and financial strategy dialogue in Beijing, China, Monday, Nov. 12, 2018. (Jason Lee/Pool Photo via AP)
Jason Lee/Pool Photo via AP

China’s state-run Global Times announced on Thursday the indictment of Canadian citizen Robert Lloyd Schellenberg for alleged drug smuggling. His punishment could range from 15 years in prison to the death penalty if he is convicted on Saturday.

The Global Times hinted Schellenberg will face serious penalties if found guilty, quoting a local news website called Dalian.runsky.com that said the amount of drug material he is accused of smuggling “will surprise you when it goes public.” The Communist Party paper mentioned the 2009 execution of a smuggler convicted of bringing 4,030 grams of heroin into China.

Canada’s Global News looked at the same website in the city of Dalian and found articles that said Schellenberg has already been convicted of smuggling “an enormous amount of drugs” into China and the court hearing Saturday will actually be an appeal of his conviction. A post on the Dalian news portal sarcastically expressed admiration for Schellenberg’s audacity in daring to smuggle drugs into China given its harsh laws.

The Global Times made a point of coyly mentioning the detention of Canadian citizens Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig on nebulous charges of espionage in its report on Schellenberg’s trial, implying the case – or at least the severity of the sentence handed down to the accused drug smuggler – might have something to do with Canada’s detention of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

The Global News made this connection more explicit, as did Reuters, which noted the Canadian government has not yet commented on the announcement of Schellenberg’s court date.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry claimed to have no detailed knowledge of the Schellenberg case. However, the South China Morning Post quoted spokeswoman Hua Chunying implying that strained diplomatic relations between Canada and China will play a role in determining Schellenberg’s fate as she referred to China’s “strong position” against the arrest of Meng Wanzhou.

Hua also said China is “resolutely refused and opposed” to international calls for the release of the other imprisoned Canadians.

CBC News quoted a Canadian government source who said Chinese media reports give the impression Schellenberg was arrested recently to make him look like another Canadian punished in retaliation for Meng Wanzhou, but he was arrested some time ago and has been receiving consular services for “quite a while.”

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), on the other hand, said a search of Chinese government databases found no references to the Schellenberg case and Chinese court officials did not respond to requests for comment.

“Mr. Schellenberg’s case received no publicity before the Liaoning court’s online announcement Wednesday of his appeal hearing; it was the first announcement of a hearing on the court’s website since April 2017, before which it had provided regular updates on coming hearings,” the WSJ noted.

The WSJ further pointed out that while Chinese authorities usually ban foreign media from covering high-profile court proceedings, they have invited foreign reporters to cover the Schellenberg hearing on Saturday.

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