Actor Karm Gillespie in theatre production
Actor Karm Gillespie in theatre production "Banjo".

’Don’t engage’: Issue for death row Aussie

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews says there is little his state government can do to help an Australian actor sentenced to death in China.

Karm Gillespie, who featured on popular television series Blue Heelers and The Man from Snowy River, was arrested in 2013 at an airport in Guangzhou busted with 7.5 kilograms of the drug ice in his luggage.

The 56-year-old from Melbourne was sentenced to death by firing squad on Saturday which sparked questions over the timing of the decision given the increasingly bitter geopolitical tensions between Australia and its biggest trading partner.

The relationship between the two began to sour after the Morrison Government led calls for an inquiry into China's handling of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, which in turn imposed tariffs on exports and slapped a travel warning on Australia saying students are subjected to racism.

 

Gillespie is a former actor.
Gillespie is a former actor.

 

Victoria is a part of China's controversial Belt and Road initiative and has close trade ties with the nation but Mr Andrews said this would hold little sway when it comes to a request for Gillespie's leniency.

"The notion of sub-sovereign trade arrangements are well proven. The notion of sub-sovereign human rights platforms, I can't think of a forum that would be structured that way," the premier said, according to the ABC.

"We don't engage in foreign policy, we engage in trade and jobs policy."

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews says there’s little he can do to help the Aussie facing firing squad. Picture: Eugene Hyland
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews says there’s little he can do to help the Aussie facing firing squad. Picture: Eugene Hyland

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 Gillespie and his loved ones and our government will continue to provide consular assistance," Mr 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."

Many have said the timing of the decision is curious given the initial arrest was back in 2013 but a lawyer who has represented another Aussie who is appealing a suspended death sentence for drug smuggling said the delay is "quite normal".

"Many foreigners wait six or seven years without a result, it's normal," the lawyer said, according to the ABC.

 

Karm Gillespie’s (red shirt) graduation from the wealth development course just before he disappeared seven years ago.
Karm Gillespie’s (red shirt) graduation from the wealth development course just before he disappeared seven years ago.

 

Friends of Mr Gillespie have shared their astonishment at the death sentence, who said the former actor disappeared without a trace back in 2013.

Bali-based entrepreneur Roger James Hamilton shared a photo of Mr Gillespie graduating from a wealth development course not long before he vanished.

"[Karm] had been an active member of our community, encouraging others to be the best they could be. He was always there for others, which was why it was so strange that he suddenly disappeared," the post read.

"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."

Les Gordon posted on Facebook: "Oh this is just too sad. Now we know what happened to Karm after we were looking for him at those meetings … Who could possibly imagine what he was and is going through?"

One friend claimed online that Gillespie had been "set up" and the drugs were planted in his luggage.

"Knowing Karm and knowing the love he had for his children, this is not a man that deserves to lose his life," a friend posted on Twitter.

Originally published as 'Don't engage': Issue for death row Aussie


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