Canadian citizen Robert Lloyd Schellenberg was sentenced to death on Monday for drug smuggling charges.
Schellenberg was detained four years ago for smuggling “an enormous amount of drugs” into China, according to Dalian.runsky.com, a news portal operated by Dalian authorities.
Dalian Intermediate People’s Court in the northeast province of Liaoning retried Schellenberg, after prosecutors said the original 15-year sentence was too lenient, the court said in a brief statement on its website.
The court said Schellenberg had conspired with others in an attempt to smuggle 222 kg of methamphetamine from China to Australia in late 2014. He was arrested on Dec. 1 of that year.
WATCH: B.C. man gets death penalty in China on drug smuggling
The retrial took place Monday; prosecutors argued they had new evidence Schellenberg was involved in organized drug crimes, while Schellenberg said he was a tourist and was being set up, the New York Times reports.
The sentence of death was handed out by the end of the day.
Previously, a spokesperson from Global Affairs said the department has been following the case for several years and has been providing “consular assistance to the Canadian citizen since they were first detained in Liaoning, China.”
Schellenberg’s lawyer Zhang Dongshuo told Reuters he will likely appeal the sentence. He has 10 days to do so.
WATCH: Chinese state media released a broadcast of a court sentencing Canadian citizen Robert Lloyd Schellenberg to death Monday
His aunt, Lauri Nelson-Jones, said the family is awaiting any news regarding an appeal.
“All I can really say at this moment is, it is our worst case fear confirmed. Our thoughts are with Robert at this time,” she said in an email to The Canadian Press.
“It is rather unimaginable what he must be feeling and thinking. It is a horrific, unfortunate, heartbreaking situation.”
The news comes amid tensions between Canada and China over the detention of Chinese businesswoman Meng Wanzhou in December. Meng is the CFO of Chinese technology company, Huawei.
Since her arrest, two Canadians were detained in China on charges of spying. Others have been detained because of issues with their visas. Experts have said the arrests of Canadians were retaliation by China for Meng’s case.
Asked about the issue on Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “China is choosing to act arbitrarily.” He also said China was refusing to follow international principles, including those regarding diplomatic immunity.
“It is of extreme concern to us as a government, as it should be to all our friends and allies, that China has begun to arbitrarily apply (the) death penalty, as in this case facing a Canadian,” Trudeau said at a press conference.
(One of the Canadians, Michael Spavor, is on leave from his position at the Chinese embassy.)
Lynette Ong, an associate professor at the Asian Institute at University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, said Schellenberg’s case is likely connected to Meng’s.
“Given the tension in the bilateral relations and detentions of Kovrig and Spavor, it is very difficult to see Schellenberg’s sentence to be independent of the Huawei incident, even though there is no formal hard evidence to suggest the Chinese court was instructed to hand him a harsher sentence,” Ong told Global News. “The death sentence is likely to be interpreted as another retaliatory action by China for Canada’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou.”
WATCH: Latest news videos on the diplomatic spat between China and Canada
Chinese law expert Donald Clarke, a professor at George Washington University law school, agreed.
“The case appears to reinforce the message, previously suggested by the detentions of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, that China views the holding of human hostages as an acceptable way to conduct diplomacy,” he wrote in a blog post last week.
He also said the speed of Schellenberg’s appeal was a red flag. During Schellenberg’s appeal, it only took 20 minutes for the court to decide to send his case for a retrial — “suggesting that it was decided in advance,” Clark wrote.
China has some of the harshest drug laws in the world.
People found guilty of smuggling large quantities of drugs face sentences ranging from 15 years’ imprisonment to life in jail and even the death penalty, China’s Global Times newspaper reported.
— with files from Global News’ Rahul Kalvapalle, the Canadian Press and Reuters