Professor Sida Liu on Robert Schellenberg's death sentence

February 25, 2019 by Kate Paik

Professor Sida Liu co-published an op ed in The Globe and Mail regarding the Chinese court sentencing of Robert Schellenberg, a Canadian, to death for drug trafficking. The article discusses the operation of law in the Chinese context. It comments on both the foreign political motivations regarding the Schellenberg sentence and the political meanings of the sentence for a domestic audience in China.

Professor Liu is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Law at the University of Toronto and a Faculty Fellow at the American Bar Foundation. He joined the University of Toronto faculty in 2016, after teaching sociology and law at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research interests include the sociology of law, organizations and professions, globalization, and social theory. He has conducted multiple empirical projects on these topics, including empirical research on China’s legal reform and legal profession, and published on socio-legal theory and general social theory. His new project will build on his extensive research experience in China on the topic of globalization and the legal profession.

Professor Liu is the author of three books in Chinese and English, most recently, Criminal Defense in China: The Politics of Lawyers at Work. He has also published many articles in leading law and social science journals, such as the American Journal of Sociology.

Read the full article here. We have included an excerpt below.

When a Chinese court sentenced Canadian Robert Schellenberg to death on drug trafficking charges last week, the Canadian public was indignant. Here again was proof of China’s blatant disregard for human rights and due process. But China dismissed these foreign criticisms on legal grounds: When Justin Trudeau expressed concern about China’s “arbitrary” ruling, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson rebuked him for not respecting Chinese law.

Mr. Schellenberg’s death sentence was likely politically motivated and strategically timed: China understands the power of hostage diplomacy and is using it to pressure Canada into releasing Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who was arrested at the request of the United States regarding suspected violations of U.S. sanctions against Iran. The Schellenberg sentence should be condemned on procedural and human-rights grounds. But does this mean China is ruled by pure despotic power, unrestrained by law? Not exactly.