Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Akmal Shaikh executed by Chinese state

Akmal Shaikh, a British man convicted of drug smuggling in China has been executed, the Foreign Office has confirmed. Shaikh, 53, of London, had denied any wrongdoing and his family said he was mentally ill. China's Supreme People's Court [SPC] said Tuesday that it had reviewed and approved the death sentence against Akmal Shaikh. He had been found in possession of 4,030 grams of heroin at Urumqi's international airport in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous after arriving on a flight from Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikstan, on the morning of September 12th 2007.

Shaikh was sentenced to death by the Intermediate People's Court of Urumqi on October 29th 2008 and his final verdict came in October after two failed appeals. The SPC said in a statement that Shaikh had broken China's Criminal Law by smuggling huge amounts of heroin, and "the evidence was certain and the facts were clear." It said the sentence handed down by the Intermediate People's Court of Urumqi was in accordance with Article 48 and 347 of China's Criminal Law. Members of Shaikh's family had sought a reprieve claiming he suffered from a mental condition known as bi-polar disorder. However the SPC claimed there was "no reason to cast doubt on Akmal Shaikh's mental status."

His family said he was living homeless in Poland when he was approached by two men who duped him into carrying drugs into China after persuading him he could launch a singing career there. Shaikh had been convinced his song 'Run Little Rabbit' would bring about world peace. "It was clear that Akmal had absolutely no musical talent, no sense of timing and the song itself was dreadful," said Gareth Saunders, a British teacher and musician who sang back-up on the song. "Throughout the recording he was jumping around in his best imitation of a rock star. We made it clear to him that this was a hopeless song, but he was still adamant that we were being negative and Come Little Rabbit was what the world had been waiting for. He seemed to think it would bring about world peace, or something bizarre like that."

At 10:30 local time [02:30 GMT] Shaikh was put to death at the hands of the Chinese state despite appeals from family, supporters and the British government. The announcement that the sentence had been carried out immediately drew sharp condemnation. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was "appalled and disappointed", and condemned the execution "in the strongest terms". In a statement, Brown said, "I am appalled and disappointed that our persistent requests for clemency have not been granted...I am particularly concerned that no mental health assessment was undertaken." He went on to offer sympathy to the family. "At this time our thoughts are with Mr Shaikh's family and friends and I send them our sincere condolences," he said.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband also condemned the execution and said Britain "deeply regretted" that specific concerns in this case over mental health issues and interpretation during the trial had been ignored. In a further statement a spokesman said, "The prime minister has intervened personally on a number of occasions: he has raised the case with Premier Wen [Jiabao], most recently at the Copenhagen summit, and has written several times to President Hu [Jintao]."

Reprieve, a charity that had fought hard to stop the execution, said they were "devastated" by the decision to put Akmal Shaikh to death. Katherine O'Shea, Reprieve's communications director, said, "This guy was a very vulnerable person, extremely ill. He slipped through the cracks of society, and he was frankly failed by China and by their legal system. And it's an absolute disgrace that he should have been killed."

Akmal Shaikh's cousins, brothers Soohail and Nasir Shaikh, were yesterday granted an hour-and-a-half with him and delivered messages from family members in Britain. It was only then he learned of his imminent execution. Shaikh is the first EU national to be executed in China in 50 years [BBC / SkyCNN / Mail / Guardian / China Daily]

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

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