Canadian Robert Lloyd Shellenberg risking death sentence in China is latest foreigner to fall foul of country’s harsh drug laws

  • A ‘mentally ill’ Briton and a former journalist from Colombia are among those known to have been executed for smuggling
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 December, 2018, 2:55pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 December, 2018, 10:43pm

Saturday’s appeal hearing for a Canadian man convicted of drug smuggling in China has attracted particular attention because of the recent diplomatic row between Beijing and Ottawa.

The dispute flared after Canada arrested Huawei executive Sabrina Meng Wanzhou on the back of a US arrest warrant and China subsequently detained two Canadian citizens on charges of endangering national security. But Robert Lloyd Schellenberg’s case long predates that dispute.

Shellenberg, whose case has been followed by Canadian diplomats for “several years”, was reported by state media to have been convicted of smuggling “an enormous amount of drugs” into China – a country known for its harsh drugs laws.

Under Chinese law, anyone convicted of smuggling, selling, transporting or producing more than 1kg (2.2lbs) of opium, or 50 grams (1.7 ounces) of methamphetamine or heroin, or a large amount of other drugs, can be sentenced to death.

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China is the world’s biggest executioner and its judicial system has long attracted international criticism. However, it is unclear exactly how many foreign nationals have been sentenced to death in the country.

In 2015 one state media report said a dozen foreigners had been given death sentences for drug offences, most of them from Japan, South Korea or Southeast Asia.

Here are some of the most notorious cases of foreigners executed for drug offences in China.

2009: Akmal Shaikh

Shaikh, a 52-year-old Briton, was put to death in 2009 despite an outcry from the British government over his possible mental state.

The 52-year old, who was reported to have had a long history of bipolar disorder, was caught smuggling 4kg of heroin into Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, in 2007.

His daughter said he had been tricked by Polish drug smugglers, who promised to make him a pop star in China.

The British government, which made 27 separate representations to Beijing in his case, said it had done “everything within its power” to secure a fair trial and clemency for Shaikh, who was executed after losing a final appeal.

The British Foreign Office slammed Beijing for not taking his mental health into account when making the decision, and also for inadequate professional interpretation during the trial.

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2014: Two South Koreans

The pair – identified only by the surnames of Kim and Back – were convicted of smuggling methamphetamine, commonly known as crystal meth, from North Korea.

The duo, aged 53 and 45, were reportedly arrested for smuggling in 2011 and sentenced in 2012. Kim reportedly smuggled 14.8kg of methamphetamine, and sold 12.3kg to Baek to sell to a South Korean drugs gang.

A court in northeast China’s Jilin province, which borders North Korea and where smuggling is rife, ordered the execution. The sentence was carried out in 2014 despite Seoul claiming to have continuously requested a suspension of the sentence on humanitarian grounds.

2017: Ismael Arciniegas

In one of the most recent cases of China executing foreign drug smugglers, Arciniegas became the first Colombian, and possibly the first Latin American, to be executed for the offence last year.

The 74-year old was arrested in 2010 arriving by plane to the southern port city of Guangzhou trying to smuggle almost 4kg of cocaine in exchange for US$5,000.

He was a retired journalist who joined the criminal underworld while researching a book on South America’s drug cartels in the 1980s.

Despite diplomatic efforts paid by Colombia’s government to save the man’s life he was executed by lethal injection.