Friends of an Australian actor and motivational speaker sentenced to death in China have called on the Australian government to step up efforts to secure his release.
Victorian man Karm Gilespie has been sentenced to death by a court in Guangzhou, in southern China, for drug smuggling.
He was arrested in the city in 2013, attempting to board an international flight with more than 7.5 kilograms of methamphetamine in his luggage.
Roger James Hamilton, a Bali-based entrepreneur said on Facebook he believed that Mr Gilespie had been tricked into carrying the drugs.
“Knowing the love he had for his wife and his children, he did not deserve to lose his life…This is not right. This is not fair. This is not humanity,” he said.
Mr Hamilton said he had taught Mr Gilespie around seven years ago, after which he suddenly vanished.
“We spent a few years trying to find out how he could disappear so suddenly and so entirely. After that, we resigned ourselves to the idea that he had left because he wanted to start a new life,” he said.
According to the Linkedin page of Mr Gilespie, he was a Melbourne based actor who had been on the television shows Blue Heelers and The Man.
He was said to be born in Ballarat and worked in lead roles in the Strzelecki Theatre at the former Playbox theatre, and productions for both Polyglot Puppet Theatre and Don’t Move Theatre Productions.
After his acting career ended he said he then went into motivational speaking.
The federal government on Sunday said it does not necessarily view the sentencing of an Australian man to death in China as connected to the ongoing dispute between the two countries.
Tensions have flared between Australia and China after the Chinese government warned international students thinking of studying in Australia of “racist incidents against Asians”. Australia is also pushing for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus.
But when asked if the strained relationship had affected the case, Federal Minister for Trade and Tourism Simon Birmingham dismissed the claim.
“We shouldn’t necessarily view it as such,” he told Sky News on Sunday morning.
Mr Birmingham said the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) is providing Mr Gillespie with consular support, and Australia continues to oppose capital punishment in all circumstances.
“This is a reminder to all Australians, as is often the case when these sorts of consular cases come up, that Australian laws don’t apply overseas. That other countries have much harsher penalties, particularly in relation to matters such as drug trafficking,” he said.
“But, obviously, this is very distressing for Mr Gillespie and his loved ones, and our government will continue to provide consular assistance to him. And, of course, we’ll continue to make representations, as we do right around the world, against the use of the death penalty.”
On Saturday a DFAT spokesperson told SBS News it was disappointed by the verdict.
“We are deeply saddened to hear of the verdict made in his case,” the spokesperson said.
“Australia opposes the death penalty, in all circumstances for all people. We support the universal abolition of the death penalty and are committed to pursuing this goal through all the avenues available to us.
“Owing to our privacy obligations we will not provide further comment.”
China imposes the death penalty for drug smuggling, and executions are usually carried out by firing squad.
Foreigners previously executed by China for drug charges include a Japanese national in 2014, a Filipina in 2013, and a Briton in 2009.
Last year, China sentenced two Canadians to death for drug-related crimes following the arrest in Vancouver of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.
Their detention was seen by some as a retaliatory move by Beijing for the proceedings against Meng.
Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, another Canadian, received the death sentence after a sudden retrial in which the court deemed his previous 15-year prison sentence too lenient.
New Zealander Peter Gardner is still awaiting sentencing after allegedly attempting to smuggle methamphetamine out of Guangzhou’s Baiyun Airport in 2014.