BEIJING — A Chinese court has delayed ruling on a Canadian man’s appeal against his death sentence for drug smuggling, just hours after a Canadian court set a September date for the next hearing in an extradition case against a top Chinese executive.
The ruling by the Chinese court further fuels concerns that Robert L. Schellenberg’s case is being influenced by politics.
“Why wait? What’s the reasoning?” asked James Zimmerman, an American lawyer in Beijing who represented two Canadian citizens detained in a previous, unrelated tit-for-tat case. “Announcing later probably means the issue is too sensitive, and ‘we’ll keep it in our back pocket for leverage.’ ”
Schellenberg, 36, “made a very clear and complete self-defense,” his attorney, Zhang Dongshuo, told Canada’s Globe and Mail. It is the Canadian’s final formal avenue for appeal against his death sentence.
Schellenberg was sentenced in November to 15 years in prison and a $22,000 fine after being convicted of conspiring to send a quarter-ton of methamphetamines to Australia hidden in a shipment of tires. He denied the charge, saying he was in the port city of Dalian as a tourist.
Less than a month later, Canadian authorities arrested Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer at Huawei Technologies and daughter of the company’s founder, on a U.S. arrest warrant. The Justice Department wants to charge her with violating sanctions against Iran.
Huawei is a “national champion” in China, and Meng is corporate royalty.
The case quickly became a flash point between Canada, which says it is simply following the law, and China, which has accused Canada of doing the United States’ dirty work. China has since arrested two Canadian nationals, former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor, and blocked much of Canada’s canola and pork exports.
On Thursday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke to President Trump about the detention of the two Canadians in China, Reuters news agency reported. Canada is pressing Washington to do more to free the two men.
A month after Meng’s arrest, China declared Schellenberg’s 15-year prison term too lenient and sentenced him to death, a decision that was widely seen as retribution.
Schellenberg challenged the decision, and the Liaoning High People’s Court met Thursday to consider his appeal, stressing that it was adhering to the law.
“During the trial, the appellant Schellenberg’s various legal rights were guaranteed in accordance with the law, and two defense lawyers and an interpreter hired by court appeared with him,” the court said in a statement.
“More than 50 people, including Canadian embassy officials, National People’s Congress deputies, Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference members and people from different circles, attended the trial,” it said.
But the authorities did not allow entry to diplomats from nine other countries who had traveled to Dalian for the hearing, including representatives of the United States, Britain,and other European nations, including Germany and France.
One diplomat said the representatives traveled to Dalian to show the Chinese authorities that they were watching the case very closely. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Beijing declined to comment.
Another Canadian, Fan Wei, was sentenced to death in Guangdong late last month in another drug trafficking case.
Thursday’s hearing started just hours after a Vancouver court adjourned after setting a timeline for Meng’s extradition case.
Meng is due back in court in September, and her attorneys have said they plan to argue that her arrest was an “abuse of power” and that she should not be extradited to the United States.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Thursday that China’s position was clear.
“The U.S. and Canada abused their bilateral extradition treaty and took compulsory measures against a Chinese citizen without reason. This is a severe violation of the legitimate rights of the Chinese citizen and also a severe political incident,” he said at a regular news briefing. “We again urge the U.S. to revoke the arrest warrant and extradition request against Meng Wanzhou. We again advise Canada to take seriously China’s position to release her and allow her to return.”
The Canadian government has called on China to grant clemency for Schellenberg and to release Kovrig and Spavor, who have been held in unknown locations since their arrests on Dec. 10.
Kovrig, who was the International Crisis Group’s China analyst, is being investigated on suspicion of spying and stealing state secrets, charges the think tank strenuously denies. Spavor, who was based in the North Korean border city of Dandong and ran exchanges with North Korea, stands accused of supplying Kovrig with intelligence.
While Meng is living in her multimillion-dollar home in Vancouver, the two Canadian men are kept in cells with the lights on round-the-clock.
They have been denied access to lawyers or family members and have had short consular visits once a month, during which they are not allowed to discuss the cases against them with the embassy officials.
Liu Yang contributed to this report.