A Canadian man accused of drug smuggling in China appeared at a new trial Monday (Jan 14) after an upper court called for a harsher sentence in a case that could further strain ties between Beijing and Ottawa.
In December, Chinese state media raised the case of Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, who at that point was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Courts heard an appeal of that conviction on December 29, 2018, and ordered a retrial for Monday, raising the possibility of a harsher sentence.
Specific details of the allegations against Schellenberg have not been released publicly.
His case was then publicized by the Chinese press following the December 1 arrest of Huawei's chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, on USA charges related to doing business with Iran.
In his opening statement on Monday, Schellenberg said he had gone to China after travelling through Southeast Asia, including Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.
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"It's clear that Chinese courts are not independent, and by systematic design, courts can be influenced by Communist Party officials", William Nee, China researcher at Amnesty International, told AFP.
Prosecutors brought in Xu as a witness, who in close to two hours of testimony never once turned to look at Schellenberg.
Chinese authorities have since detained two Canadian nationals - a former diplomat and a business consultant - on suspicion of endangering national security, a move seen as an act of retaliation over the Huawei executive's arrest. His sentencing came during a one-day retrial on Monday.
In earlier interviews, Schellenberg's aunt Lauri Nelson-Jones said she was concerned that increasing tensions between Beijing and Ottawa could mean a tougher sentence for her nephew. Schellenberg will have the right to appeal the sentence, according to Reuters.
On Friday, Donald Clarke, a specialist in Chinese law at George Washington University, said in a blog post that Schellenberg's case had several unusual features, including the delay in trial and sentencing, the rare decision for and extraordinary speed in scheduling a retrial, and invitations to global media to observe the case. Clarke pointed out that re-trials are generally a rare occurrence in China.
China has vehemently protested Meng's arrest in Canada and vowed to retaliate. China has executed foreign drug smugglers before: United Kingdom citizen Akmal Shaikh was put to death in 2009, despite protests from British authorities, for smuggling over four kilograms of heroin.
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