Outrage after China executes disabled Briton


Campaigners and politicians have reacted with horror and outrage after China refused pleas for clemency and executed a British man with bipolar disorder.

Despite repeated appeals from the prime minister, Gordon Brown, and the foreign secretary, David Miliband, Akmal Shaikh was executed on the morning of 29 December in Urumqi, north-west China.

Much of the anger has been directed at the Chinese authorities’ refusal to carry out an assessment of Shaikh’s mental health, despite overwhelming evidence that he had bipolar disorder.

The prime minister, Gordon Brown, condemned the execution and said he was “appalled and disappointed” that the government’s “persistent requests for clemency” had not been granted.

He added: “I am particularly concerned that no mental health assessment was undertaken.”

Foreign Office minister Ivan Lewis described the failure to carry out an assessment as “reprehensible” and added: “There is absolutely no doubt that this man had mental health problems.

“The Chinese had all of this information and they made a point not to undergo this medical assessment and that cannot be right in a civilised world.”

Two of Shaikh’s cousins had flown to China to appeal for clemency and visited him in the secure hospital where he was being kept.

Shaikh’s family also wrote to the Chinese president, and relatives joined a peaceful vigil outside the Chinese embassy in London in the hours before the execution.

Nearly 6,500 people joined a Facebook group calling on China to halt the execution, the first of a European in China for more than 50 years.

The UK charity Reprieve, which supports prisoners facing the death penalty and campaigned on Shaikh’s behalf, said it had given the Chinese authorities six new witness statements that clearly showed his mental health condition.

Reprieve said it was “appalled” that no mercy had been shown to a man who clearly had a mental health condition and “disgusted” that China had refused to allow a proper medical evaluation.

Shaikh, who was married with five children and was originally from Kentish Town, north London, was arrested in 2007 at an airport in northwest China and found to be carrying four kilogrammes of heroin in a suitcase.

Reprieve says he was taken advantage of by drug smugglers who knew about his mental health condition and befriended him after he moved to Poland.

29 December 2009

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