The U.S. State Department blasted China’s death sentence against a Canadian man convicted of drug smuggling as “politically motivated.”
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland spoke Tuesday and “expressed their concerns about the arbitrary detentions and politically motivated sentencing of Canadian nationals,” according to a readout of the conversation released Wednesday by U.S. State Department deputy spokesperson Robert Palladino.
A Chinese court sentenced Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, 36, to death in a sudden retrial of a drug-smuggling case on Monday. Schellenberg had appealed his original 15-year sentence.
Schellenberg death sentence was seen by many in Canada as another attempt by Beijing to apply pressure on Ottawa following the arrest of a top Chines telecom executive in Canada in December.
China has also detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and a China-based Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor on charges of “endangering national security” following the arrest on Dec. 1 of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, who was detained while changing flights in Vancouver.
She is wanted by the United States for allegedly breaching U.S. sanctions on Iran.
Meng was released on bail by a Canadian court to await the results of extradition proceedings.
Pompeo and Freeland “noted their continued commitment to Canada’s conduct of a fair, unbiased, and transparent legal proceeding and U.S. extradition request” with respect to Meng, Palladino said.
The two top diplomats also discussed “a number of global and bilateral issues, including Russia and Venezuela,” Palladino said.
They also expressed their concerns about the detention of Paul Whelan in Russia. Whelan, a former U.S. marine who also holds British, Canadian and Irish passports, was detained by Russia’s Federal Security Service on Dec. 28.
Russia said on Wednesday that it had caught Whelan, who is being held in Russia on spying charges, while he was in the act of carrying out illegal activities in his Moscow hotel room.
“He was caught red-handed,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday during a news conference.
“He was detained at the moment he was carrying out specific illegal actions in his hotel.”
Russian online news portal Rosbalt.ru earlier this month cited an unnamed Russian intelligence source as saying that Whelan had been detained five minutes after receiving a thumb drive containing a list of all the employees of a secret Russian state agency.
His family say he is innocent and that he was in Moscow to attend a wedding. Whelan faces up to 20 years in jail if found guilty of espionage.
With files from Reuters