China Executes Briton For Drug Smuggling, Ignoring Clemency Pleas

by Gopalan on  December 29, 2009 at 6:11 PM Medico Legal News
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 China Executes Briton For Drug Smuggling, Ignoring Clemency Pleas
A 44-year-old Briton, convicted of drug smuggling, has been executed by China. He was caught carrying up to 4 kilograms (8.8 pounds) of heroin at the Urumqi Airport in September 2007. According to Chinese law, 50 grams (1.76 ounces) is the threshold for the death penalty.

Akmal Shaikh, 53, a father-of-three, of London, had denied any wrongdoing, and his family had claimed that he had suffered from bipolar disorder. He had been  tricked into carrying heroin into China with promises of a career as a pop singer, it was argued.

It is not clear whether the Supreme Court of China had examined the documents submitted as evidence by the family, for the court proceedings are all held in camera.

China ignored clemency pleas from several including UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown. It also defended the execution in a statement issued by the Chinese Embassy in London.

"Drug trafficking is a grave crime worldwide," the statement said. "The concerns of the British side have been duly noted and taken into consideration by the Chinese judicial authorities in the legal process, and Mr. Shaikh's rights and interests under Chinese law are properly respected and guaranteed."

The 53-year-old is the first European executed in China in 50 years, according to the British legal group Reprieve.

His daughter Leilla Horsnell said: "I am shocked and disappointed that the execution went ahead with no regards to my dad's mental health problems, and I struggle to understand how this is justice."

Charity MDF, The Bipolar Organisation, described the execution as "medieval rough justice" and an "absolute tragedy".

Spokesman Robert Westhead said: "The way the Chinese authorities have stubbornly failed to take account of this poor man's severe mental illness shows that China is still stuck in the dark ages."

However, the Chinese Embassy asserted that Mr Shaikh had had no previous record of mental illness.

A report from the official Chinese news agency Xinhua said that China's Supreme People's Court had not been provided with any documentation proving that Mr Shaikh had a mental disorder.

Opponents of the death penalty condemn China's record on a number of fronts, BBC noted.

Firstly, there is the secrecy surrounding the judicial process that makes it impossible to find out whether the accused has had a fair trial or not. No one knows how many criminals are executed there.

Human rights groups based abroad estimate that China executes more people each year than the rest of the world put together,  Amnesty International suggesting it could have been around 1,700 last year.

Reports in the Chinese media suggest about one in 10 executions is for non-violent, economic crimes.

The US government, in its most recent annual report on human rights in China, said there were at least 68 capital offences in China's criminal code.

Then there are objections to the way the sentence is carried out. In much of China, prisoners are killed with a gunshot to the head.

Gradually, more and more provinces and municipalities are replacing this method with lethal injection, but the facilities to offer this alternative are not available everywhere yet.

British Foreign Office minister Ivan Lewis said Shaikh was likely killed by lethal injection and had been buried quickly "in accordance with the Muslim faith."

The minister said the government had made 27 representations to China in two years, and believed it had done everything it possibly could.

The execution made him "sick to the stomach", he said, and China "had a responsibility to adhere to the most basic standards of human rights".

In a statement, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: "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.

"At this time our thoughts are with Mr Shaikh's family and friends and I send them our sincere condolences."

Foreign Secretary David Miliband also condemned the execution.

A spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Jiang Yu, told a press briefing in Beijing no-one had the right to comment on China's judicial sovereignty.

"We express our strong dissatisfaction and opposition to the British government's unreasonable criticism of the case. We urge [them] to correct their mistake in order to avoid harming China-UK relations," she said.

Source: Medindia

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