A Briton said to have serious mental health problems was executed in China yesterday for drug smuggling despite last-minute pleas for clemency, a move condemned by London, rights groups and his family.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was “appalled and disappointed” by the execution of Akmal Shaikh, a 53-year-old father of three, who supporters say had bipolar disorder. His family expressed their grief and asked for privacy.
China confirmed the execution and defended its use of capital punishment as a deterrent, saying evidence of Shaikh’s mental illness was “insufficient.” It also said it hoped London would not “create new obstacles” to diplomatic ties.
However, the British Foreign Office summoned Chinese Ambassador Fu Ying (傅瑩) yesterday to protest the execution.
“She has been summoned,” a ministry spokeswoman said, adding that Britain would “reiterate” to her its condemnation of Shaikh’s execution.
Foreign Office minister Ivan Lewis, who had called in Fu on Monday night to make a last-ditch appeal for clemency, reiterated London’s charge that Shaikh’s medical condition was not taken into account.
“They never allowed a medical assessment to be done of him in the run-up to the decision to execute him. That is the bit that most causes us offence, in terms of the relationship between our two countries,” Lewis said.
“China needs to understand it will only ever achieve full respect around the world when it subscribes to basic standards of human rights,” he told Sky News TV.
“As long as that is not the case, that will always affect the perception of many people around the world of China and its place in the world,” he said.
Shaikh was the first European national to be executed in China in 58 years, the London-based charity Reprieve said. The group had been providing him with legal counsel.
His case sparked condemnation from London and rights activists, who said his illness should have been a mitigating factor in his sentencing.
Reprieve said China had ignored “overwhelming and unrebutted evidence” of his condition.
The execution was carried out in Urumqi by lethal injection, Xinhua reported.
Brown vented his anger, saying in a statement issued in London: “I condemn the execution of Akmal Shaikh in the strongest terms, and 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,” Brown said.
Shaikh, from London, was arrested in September 2007 in Urumqi after arriving from Tajikistan with 4kg of heroin. Campaigners say a criminal gang duped him into carrying the drugs into China.
He was sentenced to death last December and lost his final appeal earlier this year at China’s Supreme Court, officials say.
Two of Shaikh’s cousins visited him in Urumqi on Monday and told him of his fate. Reprieve said it was the first time he had seen a family member in two years.
The family issued a short statement expressing “grief at the Chinese decision to refuse mercy” and thanking Shaikh’s supporters, who created a Facebook group and staged a vigil in London on Monday.
Reprieve said it had medical evidence that Shaikh suffered from a delusion he was going to China to record a hit single that would usher in world peace. New witnesses have emerged to back that version of events.