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Canadian man sentenced to death in China

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In this image taken from video footage run by China's CCTV, Canadian Robert Lloyd Schellenberg attends his retrial at the Dalian Intermediate People's Court in Dalian, northeastern China's Liaoning province on Monday, Jan. 14, 2019. (CCTV via AP)

A Chinese court has sentenced a Canadian man to be executed for drug smuggling, prompting Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to accuse China of using the death penalty arbitrarily.

The ruling, and Trudeau's reaction, could aggravate already sour relations between Beijing and Ottawa following the arrest of a senior Chinese executive in Canada and China's subsequent detention of two Canadians.

The Dalian Intermediate People's Court in China's northeast province of Liaoning retried Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, who had appealed his original 15-year prison sentence, and decided on execution, the court said in a statement.

Schellenberg was told in court he had the right to appeal to Liaoning High Court within 10 days upon receiving the ruling, the intermediate court said in a second statement.

"It is of extreme concern to us as a government, as it should be to all our international friends and allies, that China has chosen to begin to arbitrarily apply (the) death penalty ... as in this case," Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa.

Schellenberg's aunt, Lauri Nelson-Jones, said the family's worst fears had been confirmed.

"It is rather unimaginable what he must be feeling and thinking. It is a horrific, unfortunate, heartbreaking situation," she told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

China-Canada ties turned icy in early December after Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies, was arrested in Vancouver on a US extradition warrant.

China denounced her arrest, warning of unspecified consequences unless Meng was released, and detained Michael Kovrig, a Canadian diplomat on unpaid leave from the embassy in Beijing, and Michael Spavor, a Canadian consultant, on suspicion of endangering state security.

Beijing has not drawn a direct link between the arrest of Meng, wanted by US authorities for allegedly misleading multinational banks about Iran-linked transactions, and the detention of Spavor and Kovrig. Western diplomats in China's capital, however, say the cases are a tit-for-tat reprisal.

Lu Shaye, China's ambassador to Canada, suggested in a newspaper article last week that the arrest of Kovrig and Spavor was "China's self-defence" but he did not give details.

The court said Schellenberg had conspired with others in an attempt to smuggle 222kg of methamphetamine from China to Australia in late 2014.

Chinese state television said in an earlier report that Schellenberg argued in court that he was a tourist visiting China and was framed by criminals.

Before his arrest, Schellenberg had prepared to flee to Thailand but was arrested while in transit, the court said.

It did not offer further information about Schellenberg. Media reports have said he is a 36-year-old former oil worker.

A lawyer for Schellenberg, Zhang Dongshuo, told Reuters his client would probably appeal against the death sentence.

© RAW 2019