HONG KONG — A Chinese court on Tuesday upheld the death sentence of a Canadian man convicted of drug trafficking, one of several legal cases that have driven a diplomatic rift between Beijing and Ottawa.

The Canadian, Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, was initially sentenced to 15 years in prison. But in 2019 he was handed a death sentence in a one-day retrial, one month after the Canadian authorities arrested Meng Wanzhou, an executive with a Chinese telecommunications equipment company.

The court’s ruling on Mr. Schellenberg’s appeal came as Ms. Meng’s case in Canada was entering a critical phase. She is fighting an extradition request from the United States on fraud charges.

The arrest of Ms. Meng, the chief financial officer of Huawei, sharply increased tensions between Canada and China. Shortly after Ms. Meng was arrested, two Canadians — the former diplomat Michael Kovrig and the businessman Michael Spavor — were detained in China on charges of espionage. They were tried in March and are awaiting verdicts.

Dominic Barton, the Canadian ambassador to China, told reporters on Tuesday that he was traveling to the city of Dandong, on China’s border with North Korea, where he expected a verdict in Mr. Spavor’s case on Wednesday.

China’s detention of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor was widely viewed in Canada as ruthless hostage diplomacy. They have been held in harsh isolation while Ms. Meng has been out on bail, living in a gated mansion and making trips to shops closed for her private visits.

Hu Xijin, the editor of the Communist Party-owned Global Times newspaper, warned in 2018 that if Ms. Meng were extradited, “China’s revenge will be far worse than detaining a Canadian.”

The Canadian authorities arrested Ms. Meng, 49, on Dec. 1, 2018, at Vancouver International Airport at the request of the United States, thrusting Canada into the middle of a battle between two global powers. Ms. Meng’s formal extradition hearing will begin in Vancouver on Wednesday, after months of preliminary hearings in which the defense and prosecution have argued over the merits of the case.

Prosecutors say she had committed fraud by lying to representatives of HSBC in 2013 about Huawei’s relationship with Skycom, a company doing business in Iran, putting the bank at risk of violating American sanctions.

Ms. Meng’s lawyers have argued that the case against her is unfounded and that her constitutional rights had been breached when she was arrested.

A lower court in China had ruled that Mr. Schellenberg worked with others to smuggle 490 pounds of methamphetamines. His lawyers had warned him that an appeal of his 2018 sentence could result in harsher punishment.

Still, the swiftness of his 2019 retrial stunned observers, with human rights advocates and legal experts saying that the timing sent a strong signal that his case was now a political matter. The quick retrial and death sentence aroused particular alarm in Canada, which abolished the death penalty decades ago.

The rejection of Mr. Schellenberg’s appeal on Tuesday had been a near certainty. The High People’s Court of Liaoning Province, in northeastern China, said in a statement on Tuesday that “the facts found in the first instance were clear, the evidence was reliable and sufficient, the conviction was accurate, the sentence was appropriate, and the trial procedures were legal.”

His case will be reviewed by China’s highest court, the Supreme People’s Court, which is standard procedure for death-penalty cases.

Canadian officials condemned Mr. Schellenberg’s sentence. The foreign minister, Marc Garneau, said in a statement, “We have repeatedly expressed to China our firm opposition to this cruel and inhumane punishment and will continue to engage with Chinese officials at the highest levels to grant clemency to Mr. Schellenberg.”

Speaking outside the court in the city of Shenyang on Tuesday, Mr. Barton said that Canada was opposed to the death penalty “everywhere in the world.”

“At this moment in this case our thoughts are with Robert and his family,” he added. “It’s obviously a very difficult time to deal with that news.”

Chinese courts have sentenced at least two other Canadians to death in other drug cases since 2019. One of the Canadians, Fan Wei, was found guilty of participating in an international methamphetamine manufacturing ring, while the other, Xu Weihong, was convicted of making ketamine in the southern city of Guangzhou.

China leads the world in executions, although the number is believed to have declined in recent years. The country makes few exceptions for foreigners accused of serious crimes such as drug trafficking. In 2009, a British man convicted of heroin smuggling was executed by lethal injection despite international protests and concerns about his history of mental illness.

Austin Ramzy reported from Hong Kong, and Dan Bilefsky from Seoul.

Source From Nytimes

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