Michael Trapido
Michael Trapido

Executing Akmal Shaikh: Part I

A British man will be executed in China in the early hours of tomorrow morning when a shot is fired into the back of his neck. Akmal Shaikh, who was arrested in the Chinese city of Urumqi for being in possession of 4kg of heroin, was only advised of the “good news” on Tuesday.

That alone should be the basis for offering clemency to the prisoner.

Unfortunately, China are the world champions when it comes to the death penalty, executing more people than any other country every year. The vast majority of these cases relate to murder and drug trafficking. When it comes to higher execution rates per capita, they are behind those champions of human rights, Iran.

While Article 49 of the Chinese criminal code explicitly forbids the death penalty for offenders under the age of 18, it is not as cut-and-dried in the cases of those suffering mental disability. The system does however provide for clemency in such cases, which China seems loathe to exercise.

Akmal Shaikh is a sufferer of bipolar disorder and has been described on Sky News as delusional by “Gareth” who helped him record the “bunny song” in 2007. It was in fact this effort, made in Poland, which he believed would take him to the top of the charts despite the more sober predictions from those assisting him.

As things turned out he was “spotted” by a group of thugs who told him that he could be famous in China with their help — provided he carry some suitcases across from Poland with him when he went. Unfortunately, the rest is history.

Akmal’s daughter and members of his family have rallied around him in China but even they now realise that time is fast running out.

The British government in turn have been marvelous, with not only Prime Minister Gordon Brown but other members like Home Secretary Alan Johnson doing everything humanly possible to try and obtain Akmal’s release. In addition, British consular officials also went to Urumqi to “assist the Shaikh family”, embassy spokesman David Shaw told AFP.

They have vowed not to let up until this issue is beyond salvage.

Akmal’s cousins Soohail and Nasir Shaikh, from London, flew from Beijing to Urumqi in north-west China on Sunday and even Facebook have formed a group called Stop The Execution Of Akmal Shaikh, which has more than 1 300 members. Shaikh’s brother Akbar has also written to Fu Ying, Beijing’s ambassador to London, appealing for the Chinese authorities to show mercy.

A variety of pressure groups from Reprieve to Amnesty are also trying to bring pressure to bear and asking for Akmal to be assessed by psychiatrists. All of this appears to be falling on deaf ears.

If the death penalty is carried out, Shaikh would become the first national from a European Union country to be executed in China in 50 years, according to the London-based charity Reprieve, which is providing him with legal counsel.

China, meanwhile, has not publicly confirmed that the execution is to take place but rather that Shaikh’s case has been properly handled. As such, it would be interesting to see what psychiatric reports they are able to produce, if any. Clearly there is enough evidence of Akmal’s mental instability to warrant confirmation that they aren’t murdering a man who is incapable of legally distinguishing right from wrong.

China’s repeated claims that drug trafficking is in the circumstances disingenuous and quite frankly, irrelevant, if these tests have not been done. The one does not provide justification for the omission of the other.

Reprieve had said the Shaikh cousins would deliver a plea of mercy to Chinese President Hu Jintao and the National People’s Congress, which receives petitions for pardon or clemency.

Unfortunately it does not appear as if they will succeed with Amnesty International confirming that China executes more people every year than the rest of the world combined. It is a record no nation should be proud of.