China’s deep-rooted flaws in its judicial systems was exposed to the whole world when a Chinese court ruled an Australian citizen to death for allegedly carrying drugs on June 13.
Karm Gilespie, a Sydney-based actor turned investment consultant, in his mid-fifties, was arrested on New Year’s Eve in 2013 at Baiyun Airport in Guangzhou, Southern China on charges of trying to board an international flight with more than 7.5 kilograms of methamphetamine (also known as meth or crystal meth), a recreational drug in his checked-in luggage.
This was the first time since the world learned of him being secretly held in jail for seven years. The development further damaged the increasingly troubled diplomatic and trade relations between Australia and China.
Australia described the death sentence imposed by China to its citizen as “very frustrating” and “deeply disheartening”.
“Australia opposes the death penalty, in all circumstances for all people,” Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said.
Relations between the two countries have been severely strained ever since Australia called for an investigation into Beijing’s mishandling of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan. China reacted furiously to Australia’s call for a probe into the origins of the virus which caused the pandemic.
Furious over Australia’s call for a probe into the origins of the virus, China, subsequently imposed heavy tariffs on Australian goods and issued a travel advisory warning Chinese tourists and students about visiting the country because of racism Down Under.
The Australian media, on the other hand, was quick to describe that the sentencing – “has to be seen as Beijing continuing its fierce and increasingly vicious punishments of Australia.”
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, “I and the government are very concerned that an Australian citizen has been sentenced to death in China.” He further revealed that Australian authorities were aware of the arrest and had been in touch with their Chinese counterparts on multiple occasions over his case.
The Chinese legal system is notoriously opaque and information on executions is considered a state secret. It is near impossible to know the processes which led to Gilespie being found guilty and sentenced to death.
Amnesty International’s latest report says China is responsible for the largest number of executions (in the thousands every year) globally. Majority of executions are related to murder and drug offences.
China’s criminal justice system, which routinely has a 99.9 per cent conviction rate, remains widely criticized as non-transparent and lacking independence from the Chinese Communist Party government.
International research estimates China carried out as much as 90 per cent of the world’s executions, but media does not report.
The Amnesty report further discloses that “the death penalty in drug-related cases also appeared to play a central role in the middle of political stand-offs with some foreign countries.”
A Chinese researcher for Human Rights Watch, Yaqui Wang, said the death penalty had “long been a political tool of the Chinese Communist Party’s to showcase its power over the population and its readiness to eliminate those it deems ‘criminal’.”
Wang said that Gilespie’s case raised serious concerns over whether the death penalty was being “weaponised for the party’s foreign political gains”.