An Australian man sentenced to death in China for smuggling drugs is a former actor who once appeared on the show Blue Heelers.

Friends of Karm Gilespie have defended him and are pleading with the government to do more to prevent his death.

Gilespie was arrested with more than 7.5 kilograms of methamphetamine in his check-in luggage in 2013 as he tried to board an international flight from Baiyun Airport in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has said in a statement that they are “deeply saddened to hear of the verdict,” adding that “access to prisoners in China remains difficult given measures implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19”.

Bali-based entrepreneur and futurist, Roger James Hamilton took to Facebook to reveal that he once taught Gilespie seven years ago before he vanished.

“We spent a few years trying to find out how he could disappear so suddenly and so entirely. After that, we resigned ourselves to the idea that he had left because he wanted to start a new life,” he wrote in the post.

“He had been an active member of our community, encouraging others to be the best they could be. He was always there for others, which was why it was so strange that he suddenly disappeared.”

Mr Hamilton believes his former friend was set up and was innocent of the conviction made against him.

“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.

“This is an Australian citizen who has been kept secretly in jail by a foreign government for seven years before being sentenced to death with no due process.” 

Another friend also shared his shock on Facebook.

“The Karm I met would never get knowingly involved in such a crime and does not deserve such a severe penalty for his trusting nature being taken advantage of,” Andy Greenhill wrote.

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said this morning that Gilespie’s case was not necessarily linked to the ongoing friction between the countries.

The Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court announced his sentence on Saturday. The court also confiscated all of Gilespie’s personal property.

“This is very distressing for Mr Gilespie and his loved ones, and our government will continue to provide consular assistance,” Senator Birmingham told Sky News' Sunday Agenda program.

He said Gilespie still has a 10-day window to appeal the verdict.

He also issued a reminder to everyone travelling across the globe.

“This is a reminder to all Australians … that Australian laws don't apply overseas, that other countries have much harsher penalties, particularly in relation to matters such as drug trafficking,” the minister said.

This article originally appeared on Over60.