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Abgeschlossen am 6. März 2019

Canadian sentenced to death in a one-day retrial

AI-Index: ASA 17/9729/2019

Robert Schellenberg, a Canadian national, was sentenced to death after he was convicted of drug trafficking at his re-trial. First arrested in 2014, he was convicted and sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment by the Dalian Municipal Intermediate People’s Court on 20 November 2018. Schellenberg subsequently appealed the verdict and on 14 January 2019 at his retrial, he was found guilty of a more serious drug-related offence and sentenced to death. Announcing a death sentence at the same time of the conviction was unprecedented, according to Mo Shaoping, a partner of the law firm representing Schellenberg.


Schellenberg’s first instance trial verdict, and the verdict of Mai Qingxiang, another individual involved in the case, have not been made public. International law states that judgments should be made public, except when the «interest of juvenile persons otherwise requires or the proceedings concern matrimonial disputes or the guardianship of children».

Robert Schellenberg was first tried in 2016 and subsequently sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment in 2018. Upon appeal, the Liaoning Province High People’s Court held a hearing and ordered a full retrial on the grounds that the original sentence was too lenient. According to criminal defence lawyers in China, when considering an appeal courts generally review the written documents of the case and it is uncommon for a court of second instance to hold a court hearing.

Local and foreign media were invited to attend the one-day retrial, with some reporting that Schellenberg’s lawyer was frequently interrupted by the judge when trying to contest some of the new evidence against him. His lawyer was frequently limited in the number of questions he was allowed to ask the witnesses on each subject.

According to the partner of the law firm representing Robert Schellenberg, it took nearly four years to deliver the first sentence in the case, and the Dalian Intermediate People’s Court sought advice from the Supreme People’s Court on the appropriate sentence after the first trial. Schellenberg’s lawyer claimed that the new supplementary evidence provided by the prosecution did not substantially change the facts relating to the crime in the case.

Amnesty International’s report on the global use of the death penalty in 2017 shows that capital punishment is extensively used in China for non-violent crimes such as drug-related offences, at a time when only five countries in total were known to execute people for these offences. These offences do not meet the threshold of the «most serious crimes» to which the use of the death penalty must be restricted under international law.

An in-depth investigation published by Amnesty International in April 2017, China’s Deadly Secrets, shows that despite claims by China that it is making progress towards transparency in the criminal justice system, Chinese authorities enforce an elaborate secrecy system to obfuscate the extent of executions. This investigation found hundreds of executions in public media reports are missing from a national online court database, «China Judgements Online», even though such case should be uploaded according to Chinese regulations.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases and under any circumstances, as a violation of the right to life and the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. The organization has been campaigning for global abolition of the death penalty for over 40 years.

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