By Jerome A. Cohen
On December 29 a Chinese appellate court ordered a retrial in the drug-smuggling case of a Canadian citizen named Schellenberg on the ground that the trial court’s sentence of 15 years of imprisonment was too light.
This is a clever move on the part of the PRC Government. Ostensibly the case has no relation to the Canadian extradition arrest of the chief financial officer,Meng Wanzhou, of the major Chinese technology company Huawei. Yet the court’s action adds significantly to the already great pressure on Canada brought to bear by the PRC’s recent arrest, detention and investigation of two other Canadian nationals for unnamed supposed national security crimes, leaving it open to the PRC to impose the death penalty or the death penalty with a two-year suspension or life imprisonment on Schellenberg at any time that might suit Beijing over the next few months or even years. Absent strong international protest against this obvious further PRC effort to distort its own justice system for political ends, I think there will be no final sentence in the Schellenberg case until the extradition case is resolved.
This drug prosecution was a weird, political case even before the Canadian extradition issue arose, taking the trial court over 32 months to impose sentence after the trial hearing. This usually only happens when there is immense behind the scenes lobbying over the inadequacy of the evidence and/or the diplomatic pressure brought by the foreigner’s government.
That the appellate court’s action in the Schellenberg case, which is unusual in itself, is related to the Canadian case is confirmed by the Chinese propaganda agency’s surprise invitation for some foreign media to attend and publicize the appellate court hearing. That certainly wasn’t done when the case was first tried in 2016 or when the defendant was finally sentenced in November this year, before the Canadian extradition was initiated.