British man with bipolar disorder faces execution in China


Campaigners are desperately attempting to save a British man with bipolar disorder from execution in China.

Akmal Shaikh was arrested in 2007 at an airport in northwest China and allegedly found to be carrying four kilogrammes of heroin.

His final appeal is due to be heard by the People’s Supreme Court, and could take place within weeks, or even days.

If it fails, he faces immediate execution by a single bullet to the back of his head.

The UK charity Reprieve, which supports prisoners facing the death penalty, says Shaikh was taken advantage of by drug smugglers who knew about his mental health condition.

The Foreign Office said it was “greatly concerned to hear that the death sentence has been maintained”. 

The prime minister, Gordon Brown, is expected to raise the case during an official visit to London by a Chinese deputy foreign minister next week.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said the prime minister had taken a “personal interest” in the case and had raised it “several times” with the Chinese leadership.

It is believed that he has also raised the issue of Shaikh’s mental health.

Reprieve has written urgently to China’s foreign minister, enclosing evidence it has already sent to the Chinese authorities that demonstrates Shaikh’s mental health condition.

Shaikh, originally from Kentish Town, north London, apparently moved to Poland from Britain to set up an airline, even though he had no money, and then flew to Kyrgyzstan after meeting a man who promised to help him become a pop star.

Once in Kyrgyzstan his passport and money were taken, and he was later told to fly to China for a job singing in a nightclub.

He was given a bag to take on the flight and was arrested on landing in China.

The mental health charity Mind is supporting Reprieve’s campaign.

Paul Farmer, Mind’s chief executive, said: “Bipolar disorder can cause people to behave erratically and do things that they would not usually do.

“This is a tragic set of circumstances and it is unjust that he faces paying such a high penalty for his illness.

“We urge the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to do everything they can to intervene on Akmal’s behalf.”

The actor, writer and TV presenter Stephen Fry, who has bipolar disorder, has also backed the campaign and described the sentence as “manifestly unfair”.

14 October 2009