SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia is seeking to engage China over the case of Karm Gilespie, an Australian man sentenced to death for drug trafficking, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday, amid escalating tensions between the countries.
Diplomatic tensions between Beijing and Canberra became frayed after Australia called for an international inquiry into the source and spread of the new coronavirus, which emerged in China.
Gilespie’s was sentenced a court in the southern city of Guangzhou on Wednesday, but it was only reported on Saturday. The death sentence for drug smuggling is not uncommon in China, where executions are usually carried out by firing squad.
Reading a statement in parliament, Morrison said he was sad and concerned and Australia remained irrevocably opposed to the death penalty.
“We advocate consistently for the abolition of the death penalty worldwide by every diplomatic avenue available to us,” Morrison said.
“We will continue to provide Mr Gilespie with consular assistance and engage China on his case.”
Gilespie, a former actor, was arrested in 2013 with more than 7.5 kg (17 pounds) of methamphetamine in his check-in luggage while attempting to board an international flight from Baiyun Airport in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, according to media reports.
China’s judicial institutions have proceeded according to Chinese law and in an independent manner, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said on Monday, denying that the case had any political overtones.
“The above case has no relation to the two countries’ diplomatic ties,” spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a daily briefing Monday.
China has in recent weeks banned Australian beef imports and imposed tariffs on Australian barley. It has also urged Chinese students to consider avoiding Australia.
In a statement, Gilespie’s family asked for privacy and called on friends and acquaintances to refrain from speculating on his case “which we do not believe assists his case”.
“Our family is very saddened by the situation,” the statement said. “We will not be making any public comment and ask that the media respects our privacy at this difficult time.”
Reporting by Paulina Duran in Sydney; Editing by Michael Perry & Simon Cameron-Moore