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Australia 'disheartened' by Gilespie's death sentence in China

Karm Gilespie
Australia has described as “deeply disheartening” a death sentence China imposed on an Australian man accused of drug smuggling

SYDNEY -- Australia on Sunday described as “deeply disheartening” a death sentence China imposed on an Australian man accused of drug smuggling, and the trade minister said it shouldn’t be linked to ongoing friction over trade and the pandemic.

Karm Gilespie was arrested in 2013 at Baiyun Airport in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou on charges of attempting to board an international flight with more than 7.5 kilograms (16.5 pounds) of methamphetamine in his check-in luggage.

The Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court on Saturday announced Gilespie had been sentenced to death and ordered the confiscation of all of his personal property.

Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it was “deeply saddened to hear of the verdict."

“Australia opposes the death penalty, in all circumstances for all people,” it said. “We support the universal abolition of the death penalty and are committed to pursuing this goal through all the avenues available to us.”

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham called the sentence “distressing” but said it shouldn’t necessarily be linked to disputes between China and Australia.

“This is very distressing for Mr. Gilespie and his loved ones and our government will continue to provided consular assistance,” Birmingham told Sky News Sunday.

“This is a reminder to all Australians ... that Australian laws don’t apply overseas, that other countries have much harsher penalties, particularly in relation to matters such as drug trafficking.”

Australia has led calls for an inquiry into China’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan.

In response China, Australia’s largest trading partner, has imposed some new restrictions on Australian exports and issued travel warnings to Chinese students planning to study in Australia, citing racism.

Gilespie has 10 days to appeal his sentence.

Source: abcnews.go.com, The Associated Press, June 15, 2020

'Very saddened': Gilespie's family responds to China death penalty

The family of the Australian actor sentenced to death in China have urged friends to stop speculating on his circumstances, warning it could jeopardise his prospects of an appeal.

Karm Gilespie, an actor and motivational speaker was sentenced to death by the Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court on Wednesday for carrying 7.5 kilograms of ice out of Guangzhou airport in 2013.

“Our family is very saddened by the situation," the Gilespie family said in a statement on Monday.

"We will not be making any public comment and ask that the media respects our privacy at this difficult time. We also request that friends and acquaintances of Karm refrain from speculating on his current circumstances, which we do not believe assists his case.”

Friends of the Ballarat-born former Blue Heelers actor were shocked to hear of the sentence after he was identified by the Department of Foreign Affairs on Saturday, believing Gilespie had disappeared with a new partner and started a fresh life overseas when he vanished almost seven years ago. They have now made unverified claims that Gilespie was duped in a business deal gone awry, with drugs hidden in the lining of leather bags he had been handed as gifts to be taken back to Australia.

Roger Hamilton, who met Gilespie at a wealth management retreat in Bali, said Gilespie's lawyers had not talked openly about his imprisonment because they thought it would jeopardise the negotiations with China.

"That approach obviously has failed," he said on Facebook on Monday. "It is heart breaking to think that for the last six and a half years Karm has been in prison without any of us knowing or having any way to support him."

"Now that we do know, the least we can do is to publicise his case and hope for the Chinese government’s compassion and the Australian government’s diplomatic actions. It's only a slim chance our voice will make any difference, but it is still a chance."

Former neighbours Sue and Brian Quartermain, who lived next door to Gilespie in Burwood until eight years ago, said Gilespie performed Banjo Paterson for neighbours and at local schools.

"His acting was brilliant, what we saw of it," Ms Quartermain said

Ms Quartermain said she often babysat his two young sons and took care of their pet rabbits."Nothing unusual happened there," she said. "They were a normal family."

The neighbours lost touch with the family and did not know Gilespie had travelled to China, or that he had been detained until they saw the news over the weekend.

"You don't expect something like that, it's awful. It was a shock," Ms Quartermain said.

The case highlights the challenges of quiet and public diplomacy at a time of strained diplomatic tensions between Australia and China. Lawyers for Australian-dual nationals before the courts in China have asked for their clients to be referred to by their other nationality.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday that Foreign Minister Marise Payne had raised the case with her Chinese counterparts on a number of occasions. Neither Senator Payne nor Trade Minister Simon Birmingham have had a response from Beijing since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Years of strained tensions over foreign interference have been exacerbated by travel bans and the establishment of an independent inquiry into the origins of COVID-19.

Australian National University international law professor Don Rothwell said the timing of the sentence was significant. "I just do not think is coincidental," he said. China Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on Monday dismissed any link between rising trade tensions and the court's decision.

“Australia should respect our judicial sovereignty," he said. "This case has nothing to do with the bilateral relationship”.

Jin Xin, a Guangzhou lawyer who specialises in criminal cases but is not representing Gilespie, said the case had taken an unusually long time to reach a sentence and prosecutors and the courts had likely exhausted all methods to extend the case's time limit.

He said Gilespie could now appeal to the Guangdong Higher People’s Court and then to the Supreme People’s Court for a review.

"7.5 kilograms, in terms of weight alone, is indeed very serious," he said. "China is prone to severely cracking down on drug-related crimes. If the evidence is strong enough, from a defence perspective, the space for appeal is relatively small."

Mr Jin said Gilespie's legal team was likely to take two approaches to their defence - arguing he was blind-sided or played a minor role.

"If he has sufficient evidence to prove that someone else instructed him, and he just charged a few thousand dollars as labor fee, there will still be a chance to get a suspended death sentence or life imprisonment," he said.

He said the legal team would also look for any procedural issues during the investigation.

"As long as there is a fatal error in the process, we can save a life," he said.

Sourcesmh.com.au, Eryk Bagshaw and Rachel Eddie, June 15, 2020

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but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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