Like the sentencing of Robert Lloyd Schellenberg this week, Shaikh’s death sentence prompted outrage in the West and appeals for leniency from his government.
But should we be surprised by Schellenberg’s sentence for conspiring to smuggle more than 222 kilograms (489.4 pounds) of methamphetamine from a Chinese port city to Australia?
Many foreign nationals awaiting execution come from countries with good relations with Beijing, demonstrating that — outside the West — China makes no exceptions for drug offenders, whatever the diplomatic cost.
End of Western leniency?
China is surrounded by drug-producing nations. In 2017, China’s annual drug report said there were 2.55 million drug abusers in the country, a 2% rise over the previous year.
But in the past, Westerns often enjoyed softer sentences for such crimes — and better treatment in detention — to ease diplomatic relations and avoid international criticism, says Wang.
“The case here, in which a Western citizen is being given a death sentence in China is highly unusual,” she added. “There’s no doubt about that.”
Initially, Schellenberg was seemingly the recipient of such leniency. On November 20, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for being an accessory to drug smuggling. But he appealed his conviction and at his retrial this week — more than a month after top Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Vancouver, accused by the United States of helping cover up violations of sanctions on Iran — he was convicted of a primary role in the smuggling and was sentenced to death.
That is a break in protocol for China’s deeply politically entwined judicial system.
However, the implications of executing a Canadian-born Canadian citizen are clear, and raise important questions: Is Schellenberg’s case an isolated example of political retaliation, or does it hint at a new precedent in China of Western drug offenders facing the same treatment as those from the rest of the world?
As China’s economic and political might grows, the age of leniency for Westerners there just might have expired.