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Canadian sentenced to death in China amid Huawei flap

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36-year-old former oil worker accused of drug trafficking says he was framed

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A Canadian national has been sentenced Monday to execution in China, after being retried on international drug trafficking charges. The court found that Robert Lloyd Schellenberg's initial sentence of 15 years was too lenient, while the accused maintains he was framed from the get-go.

Experts say the retrial and subsequent death sentence are unusual given the charges, and could be in retaliation for Canada's arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou just weeks before.

What are the details?

Schellenberg, 36, has been detained in China's Liaoning province since his arrest in 2014 for allegedly plotting to smuggle nearly 500 pounds of crystal methamphetamine out of the country to Australia. According to the South China Morning Post, the Canadian was convicted in 2016 but wasn't sentenced until November 2018, when he was given a 15-year prison sentence and fined 150,000 yuan (roughly $22,000).

The former oil worker appealed, claiming he was simply a tourist who was framed. But at his hearing in late December, prosecutors argued that his initial sentence was too lenient.

"It was wrong for the court of first instance to regard Schellenberg as an accomplice in an unsuccessful crime and impose a light sentence," prosecutors said.

After the retrial, Schellenberg's lawyer, Zhang Dongshuo, said: "The sentence is very regretful."

According to George Washington University professor Donald Clarke, a specialist in Chinese law, "several unusual features of the Schellenberg case suggest that it may be connected to China's efforts to get Meng Wanzhou ... released before she is extradited to the United States to face charges of bank fraud related to Iran sanctions."

Clarke explained in a blog post Friday that China's unusually quick actions in the Schellenberg case suggest the decision could have been made before his hearing. The apparent weak evidence against the Canadian, the speed in scheduling a retrial, and China's invitation of the international press to cover the sentencing all indicate that the move could be retaliatory and aimed at gaining leverage over Ottawa.

Anything else?

China detained three other Canadian citizens in December, two of whom were accused of national security crimes in separate cases. Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor are being held in Beijing, while the Canadian government has been largely silent about their arrests.

The third Canadian national, teacher Sarah McIver, was held over a work permit issue and released back to her home country after a short detainment, CNN reported.

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