A Chinese court sentenced an Australian citizen to death for alleged drug trafficking, the Guardian reported on Monday.
Karm Gilespie has been detained in China since late 2013, according to Chinese state media reports released over the weekend. The 56-year-old man was reportedly arrested at an airport in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, allegedly carrying 7.5 kilograms, or 16.5 pounds, of methamphetamine on December 31, 2013.
On June 10, the Guangzhou Intermediate Court released a statement on its website saying that Gilespie had been “sentenced to death for drug smuggling” and would have “all his personal property confiscated.”
Reacting to the news on Monday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that Australian government officials were currently working to secure Gilespie’s release, adding that the Australian government had appealed to China over the man’s case on “a number of occasions.”
“I and the government are very sad and concerned that an Australian citizen, Mr. Karm Gilespie, has been sentenced to death in China,” Morrison told Australia’s parliament. “Our thoughts are with him, his family, and his loved ones.”
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on Monday that the foreign ministry will also work to support Gilespie.
“We will continue to provide Mr. Gilespie with consular assistance,” she said.
According to friends of Gilespie who have spoken out in recent days following the news of his death sentence, the man disappeared in 2013. Jill Parris, who identified herself as a childhood friend of Gilespie, told the Guardian that he “suddenly vanished from existence during the Christmas time of 2013,” after allegedly calling her to say he was “going on a business trip to Thailand with a new girlfriend.”
“I made him promise to get in touch with me when he was situated and he promised he would,” Parris said. “The man never not called or wrote to me in the 38 past years of our lives … so when he didn’t get back in touch I was immediately scared it was due to something beyond his control.”
According to the report, the Guangzhou Intermediate Court has yet to publish any official record of Gilespie’s judgment or his case.
Reuters reached out to the Chinese Foreign Ministry on June 14 to inquire about the case and received the following statement in response: “China law stipulates that the law must be equally applied to everyone who commits a crime. China judicial institutions handle the cases of criminals of all nationalities according to the law.”
Human rights groups told the Guardian that “while Chinese law enforcement and prosecutors can extend an investigative period, six years is extraordinary and likely against criminal procedural law.” Commenting on the case, Leo Lan, a research and advocacy consultant for Chinese Human Rights Defenders, told the newspaper: “It’s a simple drug case. I … wonder why it would need to take so many years for the court to reach such a decision and what kind of ‘evidence’ it’s based on,” he said.
Some have speculated that China’s announcement of the death sentence, nearly seven years after Gilespie’s alleged arrest, may be related to the current diplomatic tension between Australia and China. Australia backed an international probe into the true origins of the Chinese coronavirus in April, rousing the ire of China. The Chinese Communist Party has since retaliated by imposing trade tariffs on and blocking products imported to China from Australia and issuing travel notices to Chinese tourists and students urging them not to travel to or study on the continent.