Canadian citizen sentenced to eight years by China is latest victim of Huawei feud, Beijing lawyer says

Sun Qian, a Canadian citizen and Falun Gong practitioner, was arrested in Beijing in 2017.

A Canadian citizen arrested in Beijing three years ago for being a Falun Gong practitioner was abruptly sentenced to eight years in prison Tuesday, a harsh punishment likely tied to the Huawei extradition case, says her former lawyer.

The unexpected development came just days after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau firmly rejected calls to release Meng Wanzhou, the Huawei CFO held by Canada on a U.S. extradition request.

Sun Qian became a Canadian citizen in the mid-2000s and travelled back and forth between Vancouver and Beijing, where she co-owned a successful business with her husband.

She was arrested and eventually charged in 2017 with “using heretical religious organizations to disrupt the implementation of law,” an offence commonly employed against practitioners of the persecuted Falun Gong spiritual group.

Little seems to have happened in the case since an appearance in late 2018.

Then, on Tuesday, she pleaded guilty – under duress, her family believes – and was sentenced in a hearing that only close family members were allowed to attend, said former lawyer Xie Yanyi.

“After such a heavy-handed, wrongful sentence, it definitely has to do with the Meng Wanzhou case,” Xie said in an interview from Beijing.

Meng’s arrest at the Vancouver airport in late 2018 has infuriated the Chinese government.

Two Canadians – Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig – were arrested on vague espionage allegations shortly after her detention, and a third Canadian, Robert Schellenberg, had his previous, 15-year sentence for drug trafficking suddenly elevated to the death penalty.

Many China experts believe all those actions were tit-for-tat responses to the Huawei executive’s arrest.

 Sun Qian, Canadian citizen and Falun Gong practitioner, was arrested in Beijing in 2017.

Meng experienced a set-back in her case in late May, when a B.C. judge rejected her motion to have the extradition proceedings thrown out.

Less than a month later, Beijing laid formal spying charges against Spavor and Kovrig.

But late last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dismissed a plea from a group of former federal politicians and others to order the release of Meng in a bid to have the “two Michaels” freed in return.

Chinese officials blasted Trudeau for the statement.

Sun’s case began well before the Huawei affair, when security officers raided her Beijing home and hauled her away. She had taken up Falun Gong – a spiritual movement that combines meditation, exercise and traditional moral philosophies – in 2014 to deal with health problems, her family and lawyers have said.

Sun’s shares in the biochemical company she co-owned were transferred to her husband after her arrest, in what her family alleges was a fraudulent transaction. She says she was subjected to severe mistreatment, including being shackled hand and foot for long periods, pepper sprayed for no reason, and “brainwashed” about the nature of Falun Gong.

Even under the Chinese law used against Sun, she is clearly innocent and the victim of religious persecution, said Xie through an interpreter.

“It’s all illegal. It’s because of Sun Qian’s beliefs. She was wronged,” he said. “The whole thing was illegal.”

The case has taken a toll on the lawyer, too. His licence to practice law was revoked by authorities after he co-signed an open letter to Trudeau in April 2018, urging Canadian action to help his client.

Several other lawyers who tried to represent Sun also were forced to abandon the case under pressure from the government and their own law firms.

Xun Li, president of the Falun Dafa Association of Canada, another name for the group, condemned Sun’s “illegal imprisonment and sentencing” by the Communist regime.

“Ms. Sun is an innocent who should have never been arrested in the first place,” he said in a statement. “The persecution of Falun Gong violates the UN Charter and other international human rights conventions.”

The latest twist in the case underscores the importance of the Canadian government advocating on Sun’s behalf, said Alex Neve, head of Amnesty International Canada.

“This is a worrying sign that things are not getting closer to her release and instead that she is facing many more years in prison,” he said Tuesday.


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