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Canadian risks harsher sentence at China drug retrial

AFP  |  Dalian 

A Canadian man accused of drug in faced a new trial Monday after an upper court called for a harsher sentence in a case that could further strain ties between and

Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, who was originally sentenced to 15 years in prison and a 150,000 yuan (USD22,000) forfeiture, could now potentially face the death penalty under China's zero-tolerance drug laws.

His retrial in the northeast city of comes against the backdrop of the Chinese government's anger over the arrest in of a top of last month.

Chinese authorities have since detained two Canadian nationals -- a former and a business consultant -- on suspicion of endangering national security.

Schellenberg, who was reportedly detained in northeast province in 2014, is accused of playing an important role in drug and of potentially being involved in international organised drug trafficking activities.

He was sentenced to 15 years in prison in November. His appeal backfired as a high court in ruled in December that the sentence was too lenient given the severity of his crimes.

There has been little public information from the courts about Schellenberg's case, rights groups say, making it difficult to keep track of it. "It's clear that Chinese courts are not independent, and by systematic design, courts can be influenced by officials," William Nee, at Amnesty International, told AFP.

Court retrials are rare, said Donald Clarke, a at specialising in Chinese law, and even rarer are retrials calling for a harsher sentence.

"It is obvious... that Schellenberg's fate will have little to do with his actual guilt or innocence," Clarke added.

"If the has an innocent explanation for all the unusual features of this case, I hope it will provide it," he added, "otherwise, I don't know how to understand this case other than as a simple threat."

The Canadian foreign ministry has said it is following the case "very closely" and has provided Schellenberg consular assistance since his arrest. has taken the unusual step of inviting to observe the retrial.

and have been locked in a diplomatic tussle since the December 1 arrest of in at the request of the United States, where she is accused of fraud related to Iranian sanctions violations.

In what is believed to be a retaliation to Meng's arrest, Chinese authorities detained former Michael Kovrig, who currently works for a foreign think tank, and days later.

Beijing has repeatedly denied any diplomatic pressure behind Schellenberg's case.

"You can ask these (critics) which laws the relevant Chinese judicial organs and departments have violated by (ordering a retrial)," said at a regular press briefing on Friday.

"If no laws have been broken, I hope that these people can stop recklessly suspecting others of politicising legal issues just because they have done so." has executed other foreigners for drug-related crimes.

In 2014, a Japanese national sentenced in was put to death for drug offences, according to diplomats and

A Filipina drug trafficker was executed in 2013, according to the Philippine foreign department, ignoring Manila's request to spare her life.

"is very concerned that Robert Schellenberg may be sentenced to death, particularly as drug-related offences do not meet the threshold of the 'most serious crimes', to which the use of the death penalty must be restricted under international law," Nee said.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Mon, January 14 2019. 07:36 IST