2nd Canadian faces execution in China — a look at the country’s death penalty laws

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WATCH: Conservatives call for new Chinese ambassador as 2 Canadians face death penalty – Apr 30, 2019

Another Canadian citizen has been handed the death penalty in China on drug charges, a Chinese court announced Tuesday.

The Canadian was among 11 people sentenced for conducting an international methamphetamine operation. The Canadian was identified as Fan Wei.

“Canadian officials attended the April 30th, 2019, verdict and sentencing of Mr. Fan. We call on China to grant clemency. It is of extreme concern to our government that China has chosen to apply the death penalty, a cruel and inhumane punishment,” a Global Affairs spokesperson told Global News.

The verdict marks the second time a Canadian has been handed the death sentence in China in less than five months.

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On Jan. 14, Canadian Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, originally sentenced in 2016 to a 15-year term for drug smuggling, had his sentence changed to the death penalty. He has appealed the sentence, and the matter is still before the courts.

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“We know the judiciary and criminal system in China are not independent of (politics) and can work under the party,” Lynette Ong, an associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto, said.

Ong said because of this, the chance of Schellenberg winning his appeal may be “very low,” as many experts say his death sentence is seen as punishment for Canada’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of the Chinese telecom company Huawei.

“We know the party can interfere in the judicial decision — that is how the system works,” she said.

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But what happens to individuals who are handed the death sentence in China? The question is difficult to answer, according to organizations such as Amnesty International, which says information on China’s death penalty is “shrouded in secrecy.”

China executes more people than any other country in the world, according to Amnesty International. But it is difficult to determine the number of death sentences imposed and the number of executions carried out.

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Many cases are classified as a state secret. However, occasionally, death penalty cases are very public, as in the case of Schellenberg.

How many people are sentenced to death in China?

The Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide provides a database of the death penalties in 87 countries, including China. The organization notes that although information on some countries’ death penalty laws is a state secret, it still “offers a cautious, informed assessment of state practice.”

In the case of China, Death Penalty Worldwide says there are “possibly thousands” of individuals executed every year.

A group from human rights advocacy organization Amnesty International protesting the death penalty marches to the U.S. Consulate and Chinese Liaison office in Hong Kong on March 30, 2009. MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images

It is difficult to asses the exact number, as many prisoners do not linger on death row — they are either executed immediately or given a suspended two-year sentence, after which they are either executed or have their sentence commuted, the centre said.

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The death sentences reported in the media are also a “fraction of those that are imposed,” the organization added. That includes foreign nationals given the death sentence for drug-related crimes.

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But it is estimated that China sentences thousands of people to death every year, more than the rest of the world put together.

For example, it was reported that 2,000 people were executed in China in 2018. In comparison, 501 individuals were reportedly executed in the Middle East and North Africa region in 2018 (Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Yemen).

What happens when an individual is sentenced to death?

In 2007, the Chinese Supreme People’s Court was granted the power to review death penalty cases.

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“All death sentences are meant to be reviewed by higher courts in China … but do these reviews result in a different outcome? Not necessarily,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch.

She said it’s very difficult to know how a Chinese court came to its decision after a trial.

In the case of foreign individuals — such as the two Canadians — being handed the death penalty, Ong said an embassy in Beijing could try and discuss the case with the Chinese government.

“But China could turn around and say the behaviour was conducted on their territory and sovereign rights overrule this so China does not have to disclose any other information,” she said.

Once an individual is handed a death sentence, such as Tuesday’s case of the Canadian, the Chinese government could detain the individual for years before the sentence is carried out, Ong said. But, she added, it’s also quite common to execute people right away.

What crimes are punishable by death in China?

China allows the death penalty to be imposed for 68 crimes, 44 of which do not involve violence, according to Dui Hua, a U.S. organization that advocates for prisoners in China.

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These include murder, rape, drug trafficking, robbery, treason, espionage, prison riots and producing or selling tainted food or medicine.

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For example, in 2009, China’s state media reported that the government executed a dairy farmer and a milk salesman for their role in a tainted infant formula scandal that killed six children and made 300,000 ill.

“The majority of the crimes eligible for the death penalty in China (are) not definitely violent ones, which is of concern,” Richardson said. “Add on top of this the chronic challenges of getting a fair trial in China.”

Methods of execution

Most executions in China are reportedly carried out by lethal injection, with firing squads as a method being phased out.

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Death Penalty Worldwide reported that lethal injection and shooting are the only methods authorized by China’s Criminal Procedure Law of 1996. However, as of 2010, shooting executions aren’t reportedly used anymore, the organization added.

“In June 2009, the Chinese government announced that it was a long-term objective to replace the firing squad with lethal injection,” the organization stated.

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