Chinese dissident human rights lawyer Zhao Li was sentenced on Friday to 10 years in prison after he was found guilty of killing his ex-wife and cutting up her body with a saw in the woods of Nova Scotia, Canada.
Zhao was in custody on March 10, 2018, when his adopted daughter called a police officer to report he had gone missing. Officials searched the woods in New Glasgow and discovered Yuan Gang’s remains on April 1. The province’s Chief Crown prosecutor, Howard Slaght, described Zhao as having “an admission and full confession” in relation to the incident.
Zhao’s previous brushes with the law had already strained relations between Canada and China. After Gong Enlai, a Canadian, was tried in China on May 18, 2014, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying appealed to Canada to ensure her freedom. “We hope the Canadian side can respect the judicial sovereignty of China and work with China to quickly and safely release this woman,” she said at the time. Hua also highlighted that she was sentenced to death by a Chinese court, a penalty that can be applied when the execution is inadmissible under international law. Hua said the case went before a Chinese court in 2012 for trial, and that a decision had been made based on the applicable law and the facts before, a year after Gong was convicted.
The Canadian-Chinese relationship had endured a rough patch that year, when a senior official, John McCallum, also called on Canada to help China release Gong. Gong herself publicly requested Canada’s help, and later gave an interview to Canada’s Globe and Mail, an outlet operated by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Zhao’s case drew from the case of Su Heng, a Chinese political prisoner who said in 2003 that he was tortured and given electric shocks while detained in Beijing in 2002. The case heightened China’s insistence that it upholds the rule of law. Su died in prison a few months later.
“This sentence is great news in an already terrible country for rights defenders,” Jean-Pierre Fortin, head of Amnesty International Canada, said of Zhao. “We welcome it and hope it signals a genuine reversal in a long line of ill-conceived policies designed to crush the rule of law.”