OTTAWA – A Chinese court’s decision to uphold the death sentence against Robert Schellenberg, a Canadian man convicted of drug trafficking, is cruel, inhuman, and contrary to international law, Amnesty International said today.
On Tuesday, the Higher People’s Court of Liaoning Province rejected Schellenberg’s appeal to overturn the sentence, which was handed down in January 2019.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Schellenberg’s family said the latest development is “disappointing” and “difficult to fully process,” but that the case is not closed.
“The process is ongoing and the family is choosing to be hopeful – holding out hope against hope even – that it will move forward in a better direction for their son, brother, grandson, nephew, and cousin,” reads the statement. “The Canadian government has been clear in its condemnation of the situation and demands for clemency for Robert. His family hopes for the same and believes it is still possible.”
Schellenberg was initially sentenced to 15 years in prison for drug smuggling, charges he denies, at his original trial in November 2018 at the Dalian Intermediate People’s Court in China’s northeast Liaoning Province. At the appeal hearing a month later, prosecutors said they had uncovered new evidence and argued that the original sentence was too lenient. He received a death sentence at a one-day re-trial by the same Dalian Intermediate People’s Court in January 2019.
Aubrey Harris, Amnesty International Canada’s Coordinator of the Campaign to Abolish the Death Penalty, called the ruling a flagrant violation of international law.
“This is hardly a show of justice for Robert Schellenberg, or for China, the country that still issues the highest number of death sentences in the world,” he said. “These executions remain shrouded in secrecy, and Robert’s sentencing is no different. Despite significant concerns about the fairness of his re-trial – a rushed, one-day affair that ended with a death sentence – a higher court is choosing to stand by this cruel sentence. Chinese authorities must halt this execution – and immediately stop seeking the death penalty in all cases.”
Chinese authorities continue to execute a significant number of individuals for drug-related and other offences which do not meet the “most serious crimes” threshold to which the use of the death penalty must be restricted under international law. States are under an obligation to review their criminal laws to ensure that the death penalty is not imposed for drug-related offences
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime; guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the individual; or the method used by the state to carry out the execution. The organization has been campaigning for total abolition of the death penalty for over 40 years.