Death penalty for drug smuggling in China

Jul 30, 2020

An Australian national, Karm Gilespie, was sentenced to death by a Chinese court in June of this year, after being found guilty of drug trafficking according to the court website.

Gillespie was initially arrested at the Guangzhou airport in 2013, carrying over 7.5kg of methamphetamine in his checked luggage. Similarly, in 2019, Canadian citizen Robert Schellenberg was sentenced to death by a Chinese court in January 2019 for attempting to smuggle nearly 500lb (227kg) of methamphetamine from Dalian, a city in northern China, to Australia, using plastic pellets hidden in rubber tires.

China does not disclose the number of people who undergo capital punishment each year. However, according to estimates by Amnesty International, at least a dozen foreign nationals have been executed for drug-related offences, and many more are currently on death row in China. According to the human rights group, China enacts the highest number of death sentences of any country, with thousands thought to have undergone capital punishment in 2019 alone.

One of the most publicized cases in the last decade involved the British national Akmal Shaikh, who was executed in 2009 in China, despite claiming mental illness and the UK prime minister making appeals for clemency to the Chinese government. Shaikh was caught attempting to smuggle over 4kg of heroin in China in 2007. In addition, other Australians sentenced to death in China include Bengali Sherrif, who was caught at Guangzhou airport in 2015 after attempting to smuggle methamphetamine between China and Australia.

According to the statement issued by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 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,”

From the statement issued by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

The former foreign minister Simon Birmingham said Australia was “deeply concerned” by this case. “We expect at a level of principle that not only the death penalty should not be applied but also wherever people are in trouble, the rule of law ought be applied fairly,” said Birmingham.

The verdict is thought to further exacerbate tensions between China and Australia. Recently, China expressed its strong disapproval of Australia’s call to launch an independent investigation into the origins of the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

In turn, Beijing issued warnings to Chinese citizens against travelling to Australia, citing a “significant increase” in racist attacks on Asian people, and warned Chinese students against studying there. Further, China has also placed a ban on Australia’s beef imports and imposed tariffs on its barley.