China changes Canadian's prison sentence to death amid Huawei tensions

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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.

A new trial was ordered and took place Monday, in China's Liaoning province, with Schellenberg being found guilty and given a death sentence.

Meng Wanzhou, who is the daughter of company founder Ren Zhengfei, was arrested in Vancouver in relation to suspected violations by Huawei of United States sanctions placed on Iran.

The development follows the high-profile arrest by Canadian authorities of Chinese telecom giant Huawei's Chief Financial Officer, Meng Wanzhou, in late November. The official, who was not authorized to comment publicly about the case, spoke on condition of anonymity. Kovrig - now a regional adviser for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group - entered China on a business visa, she said.

According to China.org.cn, a government-run website, at least 12 foreign drug dealers have been executed in China since 2000, "and other foreigners were sentenced to death for other serious crimes".

Kovrig was one of two Canadians detained in China days after the December 1 arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies Co, in Vancouver, at the request of the United States. "They said that by arresting two Canadian citizens as retaliation for Canada's detention of Meng, China was bullying Canada", the ambassador wrote last Wednesday in The Hill Times, a Canadian publication. Meng is out on bail in Canada awaiting extradition proceedings that begin next month.

After the retrial, Schellenberg's lawyer, Zhang Dongshuo, said: "The sentence is very regretful". He said his client now has 10 days to appeal.

Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, believed to be 36, was arrested in 2014 and accused of planning to smuggle nearly 227kg of methamphetamine into China.

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Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said that Michael Kovrig, who's on leave from the Canadian foreign service, wasn't entitled to diplomatic immunity.

Persons carrying a diplomatic passport are protected by limited immunity when they are overseas under the terms of the Vienna Convention. "I am a normal person".

The Chinese media began publicizing Schellenberg's case in December after Canada detained Meng, who faces extradition to the US on fraud charges. At least 13 Canadian citizens were detained in China since the CFO's arrest, the Globe and Mail reported earlier this month.

Canada has embarked on a campaign with allies to win the release of Kovrig and Spavor. She faces possible deportation to the United States. US President Donald Trump has said he is willing to intervene in the case.

Image: Meng Wanzhou is a long-serving executive at Huawei.

Huawei, the world's largest supplier of telecommunications network equipment, has become the focus of intense scrutiny by Western countries concerned about its relationship with the Chinese government.

The arrests raised concerns over the safety of Poland's nationals in China, although Hua brushed off such worries, emphasizing China's desire for the "sound and steady" development of relations with Poland.

The Chinese foreign ministry said Friday critics should "stop recklessly suspecting others of politicising legal issues just because they have done so".

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