China hits back at Canadian criticism of drug smuggler Robert Schellenberg's death sentence

Canadian Robert Lloyd Schellenberg during his retrial on drug trafficking charges in a court in Dalian, China, on Jan 14, 2019.
Canadian Robert Lloyd Schellenberg during his retrial on drug trafficking charges in a court in Dalian, China, on Jan 14, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING/OTTAWA (REUTERS, AFP) - China’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday (Jan 15) said it was strongly dissatisfied after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused China of  “arbitrarily” sentencing a Canadian to death for drug smuggling.

Speaking at a daily news briefing in Beijing, ministry spokesman Hua Chunying urged Canada to respect China’s sovereignty and stop making such remarks.

A Chinese court on Monday handed Canadian Robert Schellenberg the death penalty for smuggling 222kg of methamphetamines, aggravating already sour relations between Beijing and Ottawa following the arrest of a Chinese executive in Canada and China’s subsequent detention of two Canadians.

Prime Minister Trudeau accused Beijing of "arbitrarily" using capital punishment, deepening a diplomatic rift between the two countries.

Canada had also warned its citizens to "exercise a high degree of caution" when travelling to China after Schellenberg's death sentence.

The revised advisory cautioned travellers of the "risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws" and noted that the "safety and security situation could change with little notice".

The update came following Schellenberg's death sentence, after his previous 15-year prison sentence was deemed too lenient.

Schellenberg, 36, had appealed against the court's original verdict.

The sentence comes against the backdrop of Beijing's anger over the arrest in Canada of top executive Meng Wanzhou from Chinese telecom giant Huawei last month on a United States extradition request related to Iran sanctions violations.

Chinese authorities later detained two Canadian nationals - a former diplomat and a business consultant - on suspicion of endangering national security, a move seen as retaliation for Meng's arrest.

Ottawa has called for the Canadians' immediate release, with the backing of the US, the European Union and several Western nations.

On Tuesday, China’s Foreign Ministry urged Canada to immediately release Meng, saying the case was an abuse of legal procedures.