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Akmal Shaikh and China’s zero-tolerance policy on heroin

A match is lit in the darkness and the room suddenly glowers with three silent faces watching their gang leader light his cigar, then slowly exhale with relish. “So you have good news,” he mutters to his three right-hand men. “Akmal Shaikh has been released, on the grounds of mental disability.” The three men nod solemnly, slowly starting to smile because the boss is now smiling.

“Good, good,” purrs the boss. “So we can proceed with our China market. “Are the next batches of heroin ready?” he asks of one of his henchmen. The henchman nods, “Yes, sir.”

“And do we have a few more …” the boss shrugs his shoulders, grins cynically, “mentally incapable” people to … um … help penetrate the market?”

“Yes sir, and they will be reassured there is no threat to their lives because of the precedent created by the case, Shaikh vs the People’s Republic of China. No threat at all.”

The boss lowers his cigar and the blue-grey smoke trails from his mouth like a cancer, chilling his final words. “We have won then. We have won. Proceed.”

Though the above is meant to be black humour, it is far from an unrealistic outcome if Akmal Shaikh had not been executed for carrying 4kg of heroin into China and instead released.

Let me be blunt about my views on the issue of China’s stance on drug trafficking into the country: It’s tough, but I agree with it. Let’s get that out the way; no beating about the bush.

Michael Trapido has just written two heartfelt blogs on the sentencing of Akmal Shaikh and I hear where the man is coming from.

Mental insanity has its place in legal process. However, having read the various articles about Shaikh’s bipolar disorders and his available biography on the net, I remain unconvinced about Shaikh’s inability to make adult decisions. He was capable of getting involved in business ventures and international travel, which meant he knew how to pack a suitcase. And 4kg is a lot of stash, a lot of lives that can be destroyed.

Yes, a lot of lives that can be destroyed. That seems to be forgotten in the debacle. I found it fascinating that nowhere in Traps’s two blogs is there any mention of what heroin is about and what it does to people. This is what it does: heroin sucks human beings into a nightmare, robs them of their dignity and bodily functions, reduces them to gibbering wrecks and then they slowly die, wreaking havoc on family and friends. Children are fed it too and those vibrant young lives go up in smoke. That is what heroin does, and I cannot emphasise it enough. Shaikh might as well have been smuggling candy, according to Traps’ blogs and other articles. The deadly substance becomes irrelevant as China’s zero tolerance policy on heroin, instead, is treated as inhumane, monstrous. What about the bloody monsters who traffic the poison with no regard for human life?

And Shaikh was not exactly found guilty one day and executed the next. From the discovery of the deadly substances he was carrying, and no small amount either, it was more than two years, including listening to pleas for clemency, before he was executed. I am uncomfortable with people being executed. But I am even more uncomfortable with evils like drug trafficking and terrorism not being taken absolutely seriously. They rightly should be regarded as crimes towards which a state should have zero tolerance.

What kind of people market heroin and enjoy the material wealth it brings, with utter disregard for the lives it shatters? People with zero conscience. I say fight zero conscience with zero tolerance.

Yes, I may be accused of being blunt, callous, and I realise the death sentence is a sensitive issue. But the line has to be drawn somewhere and it stays there. No shifting of the goalposts. The clear, blunt, uncategorical message of China to the bastard drug traffickers and to the world is ZERO TOLERANCE. DO NOT SCREW WITH US ON THIS ONE. The low-life thugs will think twice before trying to shatter people’s lives (including children, what do they care) in China with their filthy drugs.

The fact that I live in China does not bias me. Things go on here that I do not agree with at all as per my blog a week ago, Memories of apartheid forced removals here in China. Recently my wife was robbed in Shanghai. She was sitting in a coffee shop and her bag was stolen, including mobile phone and more than a thousand RMB in cash. The theft was recorded on close circuit TV. The police came, took her to the station and asked her questions like, ‘Where is your passport? What are you doing in China? Who do you work for? What is their telephone number?’ They took down her name and put it into a computer. The computer printed out a picture of Marion and all her current details, where she works in China, where she lives, work visa status etc. “Is this you?” the police officer asked. There seemed to be far more interest in her legitimate status in China than in her welfare and in catching the thief. (He never was caught.) I thought the way she was treated was ridiculous. I will criticise what I see happening in China if occasion demands. So it is with no bias that I grudgingly agree with China’s cast-iron rule on drug trafficking.

Here in Shanghai, China, the children are safe, healthy and happy. (I am only speaking for Shanghai and realise there are severe welfare problems in China, such as those that arose after the Sichuan earthquake.) They have a vibrancy and a love for life I have never experienced before as a teacher in my 20 years of teaching, mostly in my private business capacity as a sort of motivational coach. I know, I teach Chinese children nearly every day and I have taught in a variety of schools over the last few years in Shanghai.

The welfare of Shanghai’s children is taken very seriously. Parents need not fear drugs. Drugs are rife in many Western countries, where, coincidentally, the rights and mental state of perpetrators of serious crime seems to be over-emphasised and obscures the grievous harm they have done. Drugs are a huge problem in the UK and the USA, especially among children. Then there is tik in South Africa, the black fruit of which leaves bereaved parents and shattered families. Somewhere the line has to be drawn on serious crime like drug trafficking. China’s line is utterly clear and the fruits of it in Shanghai’s society are happy children who bring a joy to my life and Marion’s. Nearly every evening we have stories to tell around our kitchen table.

*** Shaikh’s execution was a harsh conclusion. However, clemency and custodianship of the human race — and heroin in one enemy — comes before clemency for the individual. Soren Kierkegaard would argue the teleological, temporary suspension of even the ethical for the universal good. And the over-emphasis in the West on the human rights of perpetrators and abettors of serious crime, could lead us to the following reduction ad absurdum:

Jefferson squints through the telescopic sights of his rifle at the man with bombs strapped around his waist under his jacket, who is strolling around the crowded shopping mall. Near the bomber, children are playing on a jungle gym. Jefferson whispers into his radio, “Sarge, I gotta clean bead on the perp. Do I have a green light?”

“No can do, Jefferson.”

“Why the hell not?”

“New human rights rulings on criminals and terrorists — pleas for insanity and mental disability.”

“What the hell has that got to do with this perp? He’s right next to a bunch of children, I can easy — ”

“That’s a negative, soldier! New infrared equipment we are using just did a MRI scan of the perp’s brain. He’s a bipolar with schizophrenic tendencies.”

“Well, so what else is new?”

“Yeah yeah but we gotta hear from the Human Rights Commission guys first. We can’t just take him down. Human rights, soldier, THINK! Human rights!”


  • Rod MacKenzie

    CRACKING CHINA was previously the title of this blog. That title was used as the name for Rod MacKenzie's second book, Cracking China: a memoir of our first three years in China. From a review in the Johannesburg Star: " Mackenzie's writing is shot through with humour and there are many laugh-out-loud scenes". Cracking China is available as an eBook on Amazon Kindle or get a hard copy from His previous book is a collection of poetry,Gathering Light. A born and bred South African, Rod now lives in Auckland, New Zealand, after a number of years working in southern mainland China and a stint in England. Under the editorship of David Bullard and Michael Trapido he had a column called "The Mocking Truth" on NewsTime until the newszine folded. He has a Master's Degree in Creative Writing from the University of Auckland. if you are a big, BIG publisher you should ask to see one of his many manuscript novels. Follow Rod on Twitter @