By The Washington Post · Anna Fifield
Four Canadian citizens are now on death row in China, and two others being held on espionage charges face lengthy prison terms if convicted. All the cases have emerged or escalated since Meng Wanzhou, Huawei's chief financial officer and daughter of its founder, was arrested in Vancouver at the United States' request.
Meng is now fighting extradition related to charges that Huawei breached American sanctions against Iran. Her lawyers say she is being used as a "pawn in a political-economic contest" between the Trump administration and China.
In the latest development, a court in Foshan in the southern province of Guangdong on Friday sentenced Canadian citizen Ye Jianhui to death after he was found guilty of manufacturing and transporting illegal drugs.
Another court in Guangdong handed down a death sentence Thursday to Xu Weihong, another Canadian.
After Xu was sentenced, the Canadian government called on China to grant clemency to him.
"Canada opposes the use of the death penalty in all cases, everywhere," said Global Affairs Canada spokesman John Babcock. "Canada has consistently raised our firm opposition to the death penalty with China and will continue to do so."
Xu's sentence comes on top of death penalties imposed on Robert Schellenberg, upgraded just a month after Meng's arrest from a previous sentence of 15 years' imprisonment, and on another Canadian, Fan Wei, who was sentenced to death in April last year for producing and selling drugs.
Two Canadians arrested 10 days after Meng's arrest, former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor, were detained and then charged with espionage and endangering national security.
Both were granted short, monthly visits with Canadian consular officials last year, but neither has been allowed to see anyone from outside their prisons since January, ostensibly because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Kovrig is a former Canadian diplomat in China who had been working as an analyst with the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank, while Spavor was based in the northeastern city of Dandong and was promoting exchanges with North Korea. He helped arrange one of former basketball star Dennis Rodman's visits with Kim Jong Un.
Analysts and former officials have accused China of using "hostage diplomacy" to try to pressure Ottawa to release Meng without extraditing her to the United States. Canada has said it is simply following the law, but President Donald Trump once suggested that the charges against Meng could be dropped as part of a broader trade deal between the United States and China.
The appeals and legal challenges could extend the extradition process to eight years, Kovrig's wife, Vina Nadjibulla, told Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper. "Quite frankly, Michael doesn't have eight years," she said. He "is in a fight for his life."
Regarding the latest death-penalty case, the Yangcheng Evening News reported that Ye and a co-defendant conspired with others to manufacture and transport drugs between May 2015 and January 2016, the Associated Press reported.
Police seized about 480 pounds of white crystals infused with the designer drug MDMA from a room used by the two, the AP quoted the newspaper as reporting.
On Thursday, the Guangzhou court sentenced Xu to death for manufacturing drugs and an alleged accomplice to life imprisonment. Xu was convicted of making about 265 pounds of ketamine, increasingly used as a party drug, in Guangzhou in 2016.
China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the courts were considering the cases independently and that they bore no relation to the tensions with the Canadian government.
"I don't see why [Xu's case] would affect China-Canada relations," spokesman Wang Wenbin said Thursday in response to a question.
"Imposing the death sentence will deter serious criminals," he said. "People are equal in front of the law, and criminals of all nationalities in China are treated equally."
China treats drug crimes very seriously at all times, but analysts said they could not help but see a connection between the steady series of cases against Canadian citizens and Meng's continued detention.