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The 2 Michaels are home. But what about the 115 Canadians still detained in China? – Global News

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All eyes were on Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor on Saturday as the two returned home following nearly three years spent in apparent arbitrary detention in China.

Heartwarming images and video surfaced of the two reuniting with their families. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday called their homecoming “good news for all of us,” noting that they had both gone through an “unbelievably difficult ordeal.”

But as of Sunday at least 115 Canadians remain in custody in Chinese prisons, Global Affairs Canada said in an emailed statement to Global News. Not all Canadians imprisoned in China are in arbitrary detainment, but the agency said at least four of those jailed are on death row.

Read more:
‘Two Michaels’ welcomed home by friends, family after years in Chinese detention

“Canada opposes the death penalty in all cases, everywhere,” Global Affairs Canada said.

“We have raised our firm opposition to the death penalty with China and continue to call on China to grant clemency for all Canadians sentenced to death.”


Click to play video: '“Two Michaels” and Meng Wanzhou return home'



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“Two Michaels” and Meng Wanzhou return home


“Two Michaels” and Meng Wanzhou return home

The agency said it reviews each detention on a case-by-case basis, as consular officials often require a “tailored approach” that can adapt to different local contexts and circumstances.

Here’s a look at the four Canadians currently on death row.


Click to play video: 'Michael Kovrig, Michael Spavor arrive in Canada after almost 3 years in Chinese prison'



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Michael Kovrig, Michael Spavor arrive in Canada after almost 3 years in Chinese prison


Michael Kovrig, Michael Spavor arrive in Canada after almost 3 years in Chinese prison

Robert Schellenberg

Of those sentenced to death, the most recent is Canadian Robert Schellenberg of Abbotsford, British Columbia. The Liaoning High Court upheld his death sentence on Aug. 10 following an appeal made over the summer.

Schellenberg was detained on drug charges in China in 2014 and was formally charged with drug smuggling in January 2015. Initially, a Chinese court had sentenced him to 15 years in prison. But four years later, his verdict was overturned following a retrial and he was sentenced to death.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau said in August that Canada “strongly” condemned the court’s decision to uphold the death penalty for Schellenberg.

Read more:
Chinese court upholds death sentence for Robert Schellenberg in drug smuggling case

“We have repeatedly expressed to China our firm opposition to this cruel and inhumane punishment and will continue to engage with Chinese officials at the highest levels to grant clemency to Mr. Schellenberg,” he said, shortly after the ruling was delivered.

“We oppose the death penalty in all cases, and condemn the arbitrary nature of Mr. Schellenberg’s sentence.”

In an emailed statement to Global News, Global Affairs Canada reiterated that the federal government remains “strongly opposed” to the decision to arbitrarily impose and uphold the death penalty for Schellenberg.

The agency added it “will continue to engage with Chinese officials at the highest levels to seek clemency for Mr. Schellenberg.”


Click to play video: 'Chinese court upholds death sentence against B.C. man'



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Chinese court upholds death sentence against B.C. man


Chinese court upholds death sentence against B.C. man – Aug 10, 2021

Xu Weihong

Canadian Xu Weihong was sentenced to death by the Guangzhou Municipal Intermediate Court over drug manufacturing charges on Aug. 6, 2020. They also handed down a life sentence to Wen Guanxiong, whom they claim helped Xu make ketamine.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin justified Xu’s death sentence during a briefing last year, saying that death penalties would help “deter and prevent” similar crimes in the future.

“I would like to stress that China’s judicial authorities handle the relevant case independently in strict accordance with Chinese law and legal procedures,” Wang had said.

He added that “this case should not inflict any impact on China-Canada relations.”


Click to play video: 'China defends death sentence for Canadian convicted of making illegal drugs'



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China defends death sentence for Canadian convicted of making illegal drugs


China defends death sentence for Canadian convicted of making illegal drugs – Aug 6, 2020

Ye Jianhui

Ye Jianhui is the fourth Canadian to receive the death penalty in China.

His sentence was handed down in August of last year over charges to manufacture and transport drugs by the Foshan Municipal Intermediate Court, just one day after Xu’s.

Ye and co-defendant Lu Hanchang conspired with others to manufacture and transport drugs between May 2015 and January 2016, the Associated Press reported last year.

Asked last year if the sentencing of the Canadian drug offenders was linked to Meng’s case, Wang said China’s judicial organs “handle cases independently,” while also adding that “the Canadian side knows the root cause” of difficulties in China-Canadian relations.

Read more:
China sentences another Canadian to death over drug charges

Fan Wei

Fan Wei was given the death penalty on April 30, 2019 along with 11 others over his involvement in an international methamphetamine operation.

Speaking to Global News the day of his sentencing, Global Affairs Canada said officials attended the sentencing and reading of the verdict. They called on China to grant clemency, adding the decision to apply the “cruel and inhumane” death penalty to Fan’s case was of “extreme concern” to their government.

“Obtaining clemency for Xu Weihong, Ye Jianhui and Fan Wei is also of primary importance given China’s decision to impose the death penalty in these cases,” Global Affairs Canada said, in an emailed statement to Global News on Sunday.

“Canada will continue to provide consular services to Robert Schellenberg, Xu Weihong, Ye Jianhui and Fan Wei, as well as to their families.”

— With files from Global News’ Saba Aziz and Aaron D’Andrea, as well as the Canadian Press, Associated Press and Reuters.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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U.N. plane aborts landing as air strike hits Ethiopia’s Tigray

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An Ethiopian government air strike on the capital of the northern Tigray region on Friday forced a U.N. aid flight to abort a landing there, the United Nations said.

In neighboring Amhara region, people were fleeing intensified fighting.

Humanitarian sources and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls the area, said a university in the regional capital Mekelle was hit by the air strike.

Government spokesman Legesse Tulu said a former military base occupied by TPLF fighters was targeted, and he denied the university was hit.

Reuters was not able to independently confirm either account. TPLF-controlled Tigrai TV reported that 11 civilians were wounded in the air strike. It was at least the fourth day this week that Mekelle had been attacked.

The United Nations suspended all flights to Mekelle after a U.N. plane with 11 passengers had to abort landing on Friday.

The flight from Addis Ababa had been cleared by federal authorities but was told by the Mekelle airport control tower to abort the landing, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said

“This is the first time that we had a flight turn around, at least to my knowledge, in the recent past in Ethiopia because of air strikes on the ground,” senior U.N. aid official Gemma Connell, who heads U.N. humanitarian operations in southern and eastern Africa, told reporters in New York on Friday.

The passengers were aid workers traveling to a region where some 7 million people, including 5 million in Tigray, need humanitarian help, she said.

The flight safely returned to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, Dujarric said.

‘THE WHOLE CITY IS PANICKING’

The two sides have been fighting for almost a year in a conflict that has killed thousands of people and displaced more than two million amid a power struggle between the TPLF and the central government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Addis Ababa.

The TPLF dominated the Horn of Africa country’s ruling party for decades before Abiy, who is not a Tigrayan, took office in 2018.

The government has stepped up air strikes on the Tigray capital as fighting has escalated in Amhara, a neighbouring region where the TPLF has seized territory that the government and allied armed Amhara armed groups are trying to recover.

Residents in Dessie, a city in Amhara, told Reuters people were fleeing, a day after a TPLF spokesperson said its forces were within artillery range of the town.

“The whole city is panicking,” a resident said, adding that people who could were leaving. He said he could hear the sound of heavy gunfire on Thursday night and into the morning, and that the bus fare to Addis Ababa, about 385 km (240 miles) to the south, had increased more than six-fold.

There are now more than 500,000 displaced people in the Amhara region, the National Disaster Risk Management Commission told Reuters.

Seid Assefa, a local official working at a coordination centre for displaced people in Dessie, said 250 people had fled there this week from fighting in the Girana area to the north.

“We now have a total of 900 (displaced people) here and we finished our food stocks three days ago.”

Leul Mesfin, medical director of Dessie Hospital, told Reuters two girls and an adult had died this week at his facility of wounds from artillery fire in the town of Wuchale, which both the government and the TPLF have described as the scene of heavy fighting over the past week.

(Reporting by Addis Ababa newsroomAdditional reporting and writing by Maggie Fick and Ayenat Mersie in Nairobi, additional reporting by Michelle Nichols in New York; Editing by John Stonestreet, Peter Graff, Alex Richardson, William Maclean)

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Nigerian state to shut camps for people displaced by insurgency

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Nigeria‘s Borno state, the epicentre of an ongoing Islamist insurgency, will shut all camps that are holding thousands of internally displaced persons by the end of the year, its governor said on Friday, citing improved security in the state.

The conflict between the insurgents and Nigerian’s armed forces has also spread to Chad and Cameroon and has left about 300,000 dead and millions dependent on aid, according to the United Nations.

Borno, which shares a border with Niger, Cameroon and Chad has for more than a decade been the foremost outpost of an insurgency led by Islamist group Boko Haram and later its offshoot Islamic State for West Africa Province (ISWAP).

Speaking after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja, Borno governor Babgana Zulum said security had improved in the state so much that those living in camps in the state capital Maiduguri could return home.

“So far so good, Borno State government has started well and arrangements have been concluded to ensure the closure of all internally displaced persons camps that are inside Maiduguri metropolis on or before 31st December, 2021,” Zulum said.

But humanitarian groups say most families are unwilling to return to their ancestral lands especially in the northern parts of Borno, which they deem unsafe.

Buhari has in the past months claimed his government was gaining ground on the insurgents. Last week the country’s top general said ISWAP leader Abu Musab al-Barnawi was dead, without giving details.

Zulum said Borno state authorities would continue to repatriate Nigerian refugees from a camp in Cameroon.

Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau died in May and Nigeria says hundreds of fighters loyal to the Islamist group have been surrendering to the government since then.

 

(Reporting by Maiduguri newsroom, Writing by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by David Gregorio)

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Exclusive-U.S. hopes to soon relocate Afghan pilots who fled to Tajikistan, official says

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The United States hopes to soon relocate around 150 U.S.-trained  Afghan Air Force pilots and other personnel detained in Tajikistan for more than two months after they flew there at the end of the Afghan war, a U.S. official said.

The State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, declined to offer a timeline for the transfer but said the United States wanted to move all of those held at the same time. The details of the U.S. plan have not been previously reported.

Reuters exclusively reported first-person accounts from 143 U.S.-trained Afghan personnel being held at a sanatorium in a mountainous, rural area outside of the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, waiting for a U.S. flight out to a third country and eventual U.S. resettlement.

Speaking on smuggled cell phones kept hidden from guards, they say they have had their phones and identity documents confiscated.

There are also 13 Afghan personnel in Dushanbe, enjoying much more relaxed conditions, who told Reuters they are also awaiting a U.S. transfer. They flew into the country separately.

The Afghan personnel in Tajikistan represent the last major group of U.S.-trained pilots still believed to be in limbo after dozens of advanced military aircraft were flown across the Afghan border to Tajikistan and to Uzbekistan in August during the final moments of the war with the Taliban.

In September, a U.S.-brokered deal allowed a larger group of Afghan pilots and other military personnel to be flown out of Uzbekistan to the United Arab Emirates.

Two detained Afghan pilots in Tajikistan said their hopes were lifted in recent days after visits by officials from the U.S. embassy in Dushanbe.

Although they said they had not yet been given a date for their departure, the pilots said U.S. officials obtained the biometric data needed to complete the process of identifying the Afghans. That was the last step before departure for the Afghan pilots in Uzbekistan.

PREGNANT AFGHAN PILOT

U.S. lawmakers and military veterans who have advocated for the pilots have expressed deep frustration over the time it has taken for President Joe Biden’s administration to evacuate Afghan personnel.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was pressed on the matter in Congress last month, expressing concern at a hearing for the pilots and other personnel.

Reuters had previously reported U.S. difficulties gaining Tajik access to all of the Afghans, which include an Afghan Air Force pilot who is eight months pregnant.

In an interview with Reuters, the 29-year-old pilot had voiced her concerns to Reuters about the risks to her and her child at the remote sanatorium. She was subsequently moved to a maternity hospital.

“We are like prisoners here. Not even like refugees, not even like immigrants. We have no legal documents or way to buy something for ourselves,” she said.

The pregnant pilot would be included in the relocation from Tajikistan, the U.S. State Department official said.

Even before the Taliban’s takeover, the U.S.-trained, English-speaking pilots had become prime targets of the Taliban because of the damage they inflicted during the war. The Taliban tracked down the pilots and assassinated them off-base.

Afghanistan’s new rulers have said they will invite former military personnel to join the revamped security forces and that they will come to no harm.

Afghan pilots who spoke with Reuters say they believe they will be killed if they return to Afghanistan.

 

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; editing by Grant McCool)

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