SYDNEY - Authorities in Canberra have condemned a death sentence handed down to an Australian actor allegedly caught trafficking drugs in China.
Karm Gilespie has been detained in China since 2013, when he was allegedly found, in the city of Guangzhou, with several kilograms of methamphetamine, a synthetic drug,
Public details of his death sentence only emerged last weekend, when it was confirmed he had been convicted on drug charges.
Australian officials say the 56-year-old prisoner has had assistance from diplomats since he was detained. Friends of the former actor say he was duped by contacts in China into carrying the narcotics believing they were gifts. He has a week to appeal his sentence. In a statement, his family said it was “very saddened by the situation.”
In Canberra, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison reiterated his government’s position on capital punishment.
“Australia’s opposition to the death penalty is bi-partisan, multi-partisan, unanimous, principled, consistent and well-known. We will continue to provide Mr Gilespie with consular assistance and engage China on his case. Our thoughts are with him, his family and his loved ones,” he said.
The death penalty adds more friction in the relationship between Australia and its biggest trading partner. Ties were already strained over Canberra’s push for a global investigation into the origins of COVID-19, which first emerged in the city of Wuhan.
There have also been tensions over allegations of Chinese interference in Australia’s domestic affairs and cyber espionage. In recent weeks authorities in Beijing have warned tourists and students that Australia was not a safe place to visit because of increased racism fueled by the coronavirus pandemic.
Australian officials and politicians have been careful not to publicly link Mr Gilespie's case with diplomatic problems, fearing it could harm his appeal.
But a Chinese newspaper has criticized Canberra’s response to the death sentence, insisting that Australia’s attitude to China was becoming “increasingly irrational”.
In 2017 Australia exported $85.7 billion in goods and services to China, equal to more than 6.5 per cent of national income, or Gross Domestic Product.