Australian sentenced to death in China for drug smuggling

The Australian man was reportedly arrested with methamphetamine in his luggage

An Australian man has been sentenced to death in China for drug smuggling, the Australian government has confirmed.

The man was named in Australian media as Karm or Cam Gilespie.

He is believed to have been arrested at an airport in 2013 with 7.5kg (16 Ibs) of methamphetamine, also known as ice, in his luggage, the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reports.

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. We support the universal abolition of the death penalty and are committed to pursuing this goal through all the avenues available to us," it said in a statement.

What's the background?

Relations between China and Australia have been strained by trade disputes and mutual criticism during the coronavirus pandemic.

Australia angered China by calling for an independent inquiry into the origins of the virus, first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

Beijing subsequently warned citizens against travelling to Australia, saying there had been a "significant increase" in racist attacks on Asian people, and told Chinese students to consider the risks of studying there.

China has also banned Australia's beef imports and imposed tariffs on its barley. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia would "never be intimidated by threats".

Karm Gilespie is thought to have been arrested seven years ago while trying to board an international flight from Baiyun Airport in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou.

Chinese media reports say the death sentence was announced by the Guangzhou Intermediate People's Court on 10 June.

How often does China execute people?

China refuses to disclose how many people it executes. Rights group Amnesty International believes thousands are killed every year. The sentence is carried out by lethal injection or by firing squad.

At least a dozen foreigners have been executed for drug-related offences, and many more are on death row.

One of the most high-profile cases involved British man Akmal Shaikh, who was executed in 2009 despite claims he was mentally ill and an appeal for clemency from the UK prime minister.

Australians have been sentenced to death previously, including Bengali Sherrif in 2015. Sherrif was arrested at Guangzhou airport after trying to smuggle methamphetamine between China and Australia.

At the time, Australia's public broadcaster said Sherrif's death sentence could be softened to life in prison after two years of good behaviour.

Australia also expressed concern when Canadian citizen Robert Schellenberg was handed a death sentence in January 2019.

Prosecutors allege that he tried to smuggle almost 227kg (500lb) of methamphetamine from Dalian, in northern China, to Australia. Schellenberg denied all charges and said he has been framed.

Simon Birmingham - who was then acting foreign minister and is now Australia's trade minister - said at the time that the country was "deeply concerned" by the case.