Gilespie was arrested with 7.5 kilograms of ice in his luggage in 2013 while attempting to leave China through Guangzhou Baiyun Airport, according to local Chinese website News.Ifing.com.
The Australian, who is understood to be in his 50s, was arrested at the peak of a Chinese government crackdown on methamphetamine smuggling between 2012 and 2015.
Queenslander Ibrahim Jalloh, who is intellectually disabled, received a suspended death sentence in 2015 for smuggling more than two kilograms of methamphetamine. The sentence was later commuted to life in prison.
NSW man Peter Gardner, who was arrested at the same airport in 2014 for allegedly trafficking 30 kilograms of ice, also remains in a Guangzhou prison awaiting his sentence.
Gilespie’s arrest came before the Australian Federal Police signed the Task Force Blaze agreement with Chinese law enforcement agencies to tackle drug smuggling in 2015. The agreement has netted more than 20 tonnes of narcotics since its inception. The AFP were contacted for comment.
The verdict, announced by the Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court on June 10, is likely to further strain Australia-China relations as the federal government battles trade disputes and accusations of discrimination against Chinese migrants during the coronavirus pandemic.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison accused the Chinese Communist Party of economic coercion this week after China’s foreign and education ministries urged Chinese tourists and students to reconsider travelling to Australia.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham has previously been critical of China’s death sentences. Senator Birmingham said he was “deeply concerned” by the death sentence of Canadian man Robert Lloyd Schellenberg in 2018 after he appealed a 15-year sentence for smuggling 200 kilograms of methamphetamine.
“We expect at a level of principle that not only the death penalty should not be applied but also wherever people are in trouble the rule of law ought be applied fairly,” he said.
There is little independent data on the number of executions carried out through China’s opaque judicial system.
Human rights group Amnesty International believes it is the world’s leading executioner – estimating it to have put thousands of people to death each year – but the true extent of the use of the death penalty in China is unknown as it is classified as a state secret.
Treason, separatism, spying, arson, murder, rape, robbery, drug and human trafficking all carry the death penalty in China. High ranking figures within the Chinese government have also been sentenced to death over corruption. Some have had their death sentences commuted to life in prison.
Griffith University’s Chinese criminal justice expert Sue Trevaskes found in 2017 that half of all death sentences in China were handed down for drug charges.
China’s chief justice, Zhou Qiang, has defended the practice, arguing executions were limited to a small number of criminals for “extremely serious offences”.
A previous version of this story identified the sentenced Australian man as Cam Gillespie. His name is Karm Gilespie.
Eryk Bagshaw is the China correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Due to travel restrictions, he is currently based in Canberra.