Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews says he won’t step in to save an Australian actor sentenced to death in China despite his cosy relationship with the Communist Party.
Husband and father Karm Gilespie, 56, a Victorian actor with a recurring role on the television show Blue Heelers, was sentenced to death in China on June 10 for drug smuggling in a case which friends and supporters say was ‘a set up’.
When asked about Mr Gilespie, the Victorian Premier said diplomatic representations to China regarding the death penalty were for the Federal Government and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews visiting Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 2015. Mr Andrews said he won’t interfere in Mr Gilespie’s case even though he has close ties with China after Victoria became the only state to sign on to Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative
Mr Gilespie (right) had a recurring role on popular 1990s drama Blue Heelers before moving into property investing and financial motivation, which led him to spend time in China
His friend Roger Hamilton (left) posted a statement on Facebook telling of how he had last seen Mr Gilespie (second from left) in 2013 at a financial forum before he disappeared
Mr Andrews said he did not want to interfere with the sensitive process or with the work of senior officials already working on the issue.
‘I’m not commenting about a specific case, because one thing I know is that there will be very senior officials working extremely hard to try and deal with this particular issue,’ he said on Sunday.
Victoria is the only Australian state to have signed up to Beijing’s controversial Belt and Road initiative, despite warnings from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and national security agencies.
Having signed the initial agreement in 2018, the Andrews Government significantly deepened it with a new agreement in October last year.
Mr Gilespie’s friends said they looked for him for years, unaware he had been imprisoned in China. They said they have never seen him drink or smoke. Pictured: Karm Gilespie
International trade deals are more commonly handled by Australia’s Federal Government than by individual states and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews was widely criticised for signing the deal.
Critics fear China is using the trillion-dollar Belt and Road, which provides loans and investment in infrastructure projects from the Chinese government, to buy undue influence through debt diplomacy across critical trade choke points around the world.
Mr Andrews said on Sunday that many governments have strong trading ties with countries whose policies they don’t agree with.
‘We obviously oppose, deplore and condemn the death penalty wherever it is applied,’ he said.
‘You don’t have to agree with everything in order to have a partnership.’
Karm Gilespie was arrested with more than 7.5 kilograms of methamphetamine in his check-in luggage in December, 2013.
Karm Gilespie (pictured) was described as a supportive, kind and encouraging friend who was ‘always there for others’. He has just 10 days in which to lodge an appeal in China
He was about to board an international flight from Baiyun Airport in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou at the time.
Friends of Mr Gilespie told of how they had been trying to find out information about his whereabouts since 2013 without luck.
The television actor had moved into property investment and wealth motivation, and had been an active and supportive member of the Wealth Dynamics community before suddenly disappearing.
American entrepreneur Roger James Hamilton said his group had spent a few years trying to find out what had happened to him.
‘Today I heard the news of what had happened to him. He has been in a Chinese jail for 7 years and has now been sentenced to death,’ he wrote on Facebook on Sunday.
‘This is an Australian citizen who has been kept secretly in jail by a foreign government for 7 years before being sentenced to death with no due process.’
Mr Hamilton said he believed that Mr Gilespie had unwittingly been set up.
‘Knowing Karm, and knowing the love he had (and has) for his wife and his children, this is not a man that deserves to lose his life.’
Friends of Mr Gilespie told the Sydney Morning Herald they had never seen the motivational speaker drink or smoke, and were shocked at the sentence.
A lawyer in China told The Australian on Sunday that the death sentence handed out to Mr Gilespie after seven years in prison was connected to China’s diplomatic and trade attacks on Australia in the wake of Australia’s push for an international investigation on the origins of the coronavirus.
Pictured: China’s President Xi Jinping. China’s Belt and Road is said by critics to be an expansion of Chinese influence that traps smaller countries into debt for political leverage
‘It is not a coincidence,’ the lawyer said.
The lawyer, who did not want to be named because of the political sensitivity of the case, said China had been ‘prudent’ in considering diplomatic relations with other countries when handing out sentences to foreigners.
China’s media, controlled by the ruling Communist Party has linked a recent 80 percent tariff on Australian barley and beef import bans to Australia’s push for an independent coronavirus investigation.
China has since warned its citizens form travelling to Australia because of ‘racism’.
This came weeks after China itself was criticised by Human Rights Watch for kicking African migrants out of their accommodation onto the streets in the southern city of Guangzhou, and refusing them service in hotels, shops and restaurants.
China’s strategic Belt and Road initiative which Victoria signed up to despite opposition from both the federal government and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham told Sky News on Sunday that the sentence was not due to the deterioration in diplomatic relations between China and Australia.
‘Over the last decade China has carried out death sentences in relation to citizens from the Philippines, from Japan and from other parts of the world,’ Senator Birmingham said.
‘Now, we will continue to work on behalf of this Australian citizen to argue against the use of the death penalty and to support him through these circumstances. It’s not our legal system, it’s not our justice system, but we can make those sorts of representations.’
Foreign Minister Marise Payne told Daily Mail Australia on Sunday that she was saddened and deeply concerned over Mr Gilespie’s sentence.
A scene from 1990s television show Blue Heelers, in which Mr Gilespie (left) had a part
‘We will continue to provide Mr Gilespie with consular assistance. Our thoughts are with his family and loved ones.’
Senator Payne said Australia’s opposition to the death penalty had been consistent.
‘We regard it as undermining shared human dignity and inconsistent with principles of criminal justice that allow for rehabilitation. The irrevocability of it allows for no errors of fact or law to be corrected,’ she said.
‘It is no more effective as a deterrent against serious crime than lengthy imprisonment. We advocate consistently for the abolition of the death penalty worldwide, via every diplomatic avenue available to us.’
Neither Senator Birmingham nor Foreign Minister Marise Payne have been able to speak to their Chinese counterparts since the start of this year.
Mr Gilespie now has a 10-day window in which he can lodge an appeal through China’s complicated judicial system.
Pictured: Karm Gilespie in Blue Heelers. He was sometimes credited as ‘Craig Gilespie’
A spokesperson from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told Daily Mail Australia on Sunday that the department is providing consular assistance.
‘We are deeply saddened to hear of the verdict made in his case,’ the spokesperson said.
‘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.
‘Owing to our privacy obligations we will not provide further comment.’
Amnesty International has estimated more than 1000 people are executed each year in China although the actual number is secret.
More than 100 Australians are believed to have been under arrest in China as of the end of 2019, most on charges of drug trafficking or fraud.