Family Plead for Life of Mentally Ill Briton Facing Execution in China

Briton Akmal Shaikh is scheduled to be executed next week in China for heroin smuggling. The case is controversial, given his family’s claims that Shaikh has a mental illness and had been manipulated by a gang into smuggling the drugs. From the Guardian:

Akmal Shaikh is due to be executed on 29 December after being convicted of heroin smuggling. His family claim a drugs gang exploited his mental illness to trick him into smuggling 4kg of heroin into China.

Efforts to save the life of Shaikh, 53, from north London, have intensified after the Chinese supreme court rejected his plea for clemency and upheld the death sentence yesterday.

Gordon Brown has written to the Chinese authorities pleading for the sentence to be set aside and today, in his first interview since a date for the execution was set, Shaikh’s brother told the Guardian of the family’s trauma.

Akbar Shaikh, 60, said: “We are begging the Chinese authorities to show compassion … and mercy. Basically I’m here begging for his life to be spared.”

Shaikh was convicted in November 2008 of drug smuggling and sentenced to death. He was originally arrested in September 2007 in Urumqi, north-west China, as he arrived in the country.

Jerome Cohen, professor of law at New York University School of Law, has commented on the trial’s proceedings and its lack of transparency. In the South China Morning Post:

Chinese legislation exempts from criminal responsibility someone unable to recognise or control his misconduct, and provides for reduction of punishment in cases of partial mental capacity. But Shaikh’s 30-minute first instance trial ignored this major aspect of justice.

By the time of Shaikh’s second instance trial, on May 26, the London-based rights organisation, Reprieve, had sent British forensic psychiatrist, Dr Peter Schaapveld, to Urumqi in the hope of conducting an examination that would confirm Shaikh’s condition and inform the court’s review. Unfortunately, without explanation, Schaapveld was denied an interview with Shaikh. He was also not permitted to attend the judicial hearing.

Moreover, the authorities, which had initially indicated that they would allow a local doctor to evaluate Shaikh, changed their mind. The reviewing court thus had the benefit of no expert opinion on this crucial issue. It did, however, apparently allow the defendant the opportunity, against the advice of his lawyers, to deliver a rambling, often incoherent, statement that caused the judges to openly laugh at him.