Skip to main content

Ottawa is asking Beijing for clemency after a Chinese court sentenced to death a Canadian man for his involvement in a 2012 scheme to manufacture methamphetamine in China, a verdict delivered in the midst of continuing tensions following the arrest of a senior Huawei executive.

A Chinese court in Guangdong accused Fan Wei of playing a leadership role in what it called the “extraordinarily serious transnational trafficking and manufacturing of narcotics.”

Mr. Fan is the second Canadian to be sentenced to death in China on drug charges after Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Vancouver in December, pitching Canada and China into their worst dispute in years. Two other Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, have been detained and accused of espionage-related offences. They have been held in a room with 24-hour lighting and regularly interrogated for six hours a days. Neither has been formally charged.

Mr. Fan is a Chinese-born Canadian with a Hong Kong identity card. Canadian officials have provided consular assistance to Mr. Fan since his detention in 2012, and attended his sentencing on Tuesday.

“We call on China to grant clemency for Mr. Fan,” Guillaume Bérubé, spokesman for Global Affairs Canada, said in a statement.

In total, 11 people were caught up in the case with Mr. Fan, including an American and four Mexicans. Another person, Wu Ziping, was also sentenced to death. State media identified him as a Chinese citizen. China’s Foreign Ministry did not comment on the case, referring instead to the court statement.

Opinion: With lives at stake, Canada’s misguided vision of China desperately demands a careful reboot

American Mark Swidan was sentenced to death with a two-year suspension. The court said the other sentences ranged in severity from life in prison to death with a two-year suspension.

A person who answered the phone at the Jiangmen Intermediate People’s Court in Guangdong said she could not answer questions on the case.

Speaking to reporters on Parliament Hill on Tuesday, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland condemned the use of the death penalty as “a cruel and inhumane punishment which should not be used in any country.”

“We’re very concerned by this sentence. Canada stands firmly opposed to the use of the death penalty everywhere around the world,” Ms. Freeland said. “We are obviously particularly concerned when it is applied to Canadians.”

Between July and November, 2012, the court said, the group manufactured 63.83 kilograms of methamphetamine and 365.9 grams of dimethylamphetamine.

The sentences revealed Tuesday come nearly six years after the case went to trial, but less than four months after a court in China’s Liaoning province sentenced to death another Canadian, Robert Schellenberg, on drug-trafficking charges.

Mr. Schellenberg has appealed, but the court has twice delayed his pretrial conference, for reasons his lawyer, Zhang Dongshuo, said Tuesday he does not understand. A third date has been set for Monday.

Chinese authorities have previously executed at least two Canadian citizens for drug crimes, Guy Saint-Jacques, Canada’s former ambassador to China, has said.

China is believed to execute more people than all other countries combined – some 2,000 a year, human-rights groups estimate – although much about its use of capital punishment remains unknown, including accurate statistics.

In the case of Mr. Fan, “the secrecy around China’s death-penalty system contributes to why people will be questioning the motives behind this death sentence,” said Doriane Lau, China researcher at Amnesty International.

“At the same time, the Chinese government has long seen the use of death penalty as taking tough action against drug-related crimes. The authorities continue to execute a significant number of individuals for drug-related and other offences, which do not meet the ‘most serious crimes’ threshold to which the use of the death penalty must be restricted under international law.”

Publicly available details about the case in which Mr. Fan was involved come largely from Mr. Swidan’s family, which has raised concern about his treatment. In 2017, the Dui Hua Foundation, a U.S. organization that advocates for prisoners in China, wrote about his long wait for a judgment, which included more than 20 court-granted extensions.

“A troubling feature of China’s criminal-justice system is that a judgment in a criminal trial can be postponed indefinitely after the trial concludes,” Dui Hua wrote.

In a statement following the sentencing, Dui Hua called the verdict “cruel” and “a crushing blow” to Mr. Swidan’s family in Texas.

Police seized Mr. Swidan from his hotel in Dongguan during a business trip on Nov. 12, 2012, saying they had found drugs on an interpreter and driver who had come to his room.

They said, “No drugs were found on Mr. Swidan or in his room. Drugs were found in the room of another suspect,” Dui Hua wrote. Mr. Swidan has no criminal background, the organization said.

In detention at a place where many detainees were forced to produce silk flowers for export, Mr. Swidan lost nearly half his weight and was “shackled, bullied, and denied medical treatment,” Dui Hua wrote.

“It was a hell place indeed,” Terry Lee, a Chinese entrepreneur who shared a cell with Mr. Swidan, told Newsweek.

Mr. Swidan also threatened self-harm, prompting concern from U.S. authorities.

“We are asking the jail to please continue taking extra caution to ensure his safety and make sure they are aware and take very seriously his threats to commit suicide,” a consular officer wrote to Mr. Swidan’s mother, Katherine Swidan.

Lawyers for Mr. Swidan declined to comment Tuesday. One said his phone was being monitored and asked a reporter not to call back.

With reporting by Alexandra Li and Michelle Zilio

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe