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Mentally ill Briton executed in China

Akmal Shaikh was executed In the far north-west of China, in the early hours (GMT) of Tuesday morning, 29 December 2009.  Two of his cousins from London had travelled to Urumqi to present a final petition for mercy.  Despite all the pleas for mercy the killing went ahead.  Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that he was appalled and disappointed.  

This is thought to be the first execution in China of a citizen of a European Union country for 50 years.  

Akmal Shaikh, aged 53 and from Kentish Town in north London, suffered from mental illness, probably bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.  His mental health was not considered in the court processes.  Dr Schaapveld, a psychologist from the UK, travelled to China to meet Shaikh and assess his mental health but he was refused access.   Shaikh was convicted of carrying heroin but his family and supporters believe that he is less culpable due to his illness.  They say that smugglers took advantage of his illness and tricked him into carrying the heroin in his luggage.  He was being held in a secure hospital, which does confirm that he was mentally ill. 

The Chinese embassy in London states that there is no previous medical record of mental illness in the case.  Which may be true but only because Mr Shaikh was denied access to a psychiatrist or psychologist to assess his health.   

Clive Stafford Smith writing in the Guardian says that the trial was flawed and points out that witnesses are coming forward to give evidence about Mr Shaikh's mental health, some of them people who met him during his time in Poland.   

His fate or he exact timing had been kept secret from him until 24 hours before the planned execution and this was said by the Chinese authorities to be on "humanitarian grounds".  I do not feel that any of the many people who have made appeals for clemency on humanitarian grounds will be at all impressed by that.   

The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary of the UK are among those who have made formal appeals to the Chinese authorities for mercy and compassion in this case. 

Ivan Lewis, a Foreign Office minister, spoke on Monday evening after meeting the Chinese ambassador for a "full and frank exchange of views".  He said that it was not appropriate to kill a mentally ill man.  He also said that the UK government had made 27 representations about the case in the last two years.

Reprieve has details of this and other cases in which Britons are under threat of execution or have already been executed.

There is a page on Facebook which sought to stop the execution of Akmal Shaikh.

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