Sydney man Peter Gardner, 25, has had his death penalty case in a Chinese courtroom brought forward by almost six months and will go on trial in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou next Thursday, May 7, for allegedly attempting to export 30kg of methamphetamine, or ice.
Gardner's lawyer, New Zealand barrister Craig Tuck, said the reasons for the fast-tracked trial were unknown.
China executes thousands of people every year according to Amnesty International, and has killed at least a dozen foreign nationals in the past 15 years.
The opaque Chinese legal system operates on three levels: police, prosecutors and courts — all come under the control of the nation's ruling Communist Party. Once cases are passed to the courts, conviction rates are 99 per cent and Gardner's lawyers have previously said his fate all but certain.
Gardner is a dual New Zealand and Australian citizen. His father and two sisters live in Sydney while his is in New Zealand. They have declined to comment.
Gardner was with Australian woman Kalynda Davis — whom he met weeks earlier through an online dating site — when they were detained by customs officials in Guangzhou on November 8 after a three-day visit. Two bags being checked in by the couple were allegedly found to have 60kg of ice inside with their zips glued shut.
In a development that stunned China watchers, Davis was released after four weeks of negotiations between her China based lawyers and Chinese authorities with her long blonde hair roughly cropped after her lawyers argued she had no knowledge of the cargo.
"I knew she was so innocent. I prayed every night that the truth would come out, I prayed for the authorities, that it was dealt with in the way that it was dealt with, and our prayers were answered," her father Larry David said upon her release.
It is understood that Gardner's case was passed from the police to prosecutors several months ago but his lawyer said earlier this month that he did not expect the case to go to trial for six months. However on Tuesday night he said the trial date had moved to May 7.
"This is considerably earlier than expected. The trial will take place in Guangzhou Municipal Intermediate Court and is expected to last no more than two days," he said in a statement.
"The Gardner family have requested privacy at this time and will not be making any comments to the media."
Since his detention, Gardner has been in a crowded Guangzhou detention centre with no heating or airconditioning. He has been sharing a room with up to 14 other people, according to sources.
Gardner is permitted one visit a month from a New Zealand embassy official, having travelled to China on his New Zealand passport.
Gardner is alleged to have been carrying 60 vacuum-packed plastic bags in two cases with the zips glued shut.
Chinese lawyers who spoke to News Corp Australia at the time of his detention said that his fate was all but certain. Under Chinese law anyone caught smuggling more than 50g of meth or heroin faces death by firing squad or lethal injection Gardner has been charged in the very highest level of drug exportation, his lawyer said.
If he is found guilty and sentenced to death he automatically has the right to two appeals — to China's High People's Court and the Supreme Court Guangzhou, so it may be months after the trial before his fate will be decided. China's third largest and most important city with a population of about 14 million people, once known in the west as Canton, is 100 kilometres up the Pearl River from Hong Kong.
It has a long history of criminal gangs and has been notorious for its drug trade since the Opium Wars Gangs manufactured huge quantities of methamphetamine and other synthetic drugs such as ecstasy and ketamine. It is also a major importing centre for cocaine.
Under the two-and-a-half-year-old regime of Chinese President Xi Jinxing, authorities have launched a major anti-drugs campaign and several gangs in Guangzhou have been reported in the Chinese media.
Guangzhou has also gained a reputation in Australia in recent years for rough justice. Two Australian businesspeople, travel business operator Matthew Ng and tertiary institution founder Charlotte Chou, both received hefty sentences on the back of business disputes that involved.
Communist Party official and business people with close party connections.
Chou was finally released after 6 years in December last year and in March, Ng became the first person to be transferred to Australia to complete his sentence under a deal signed in 2010.