China Executes Mentally Ill Man

China has been roundly criticised for executing Akmal Shaikh, a 53 year old British national with a proven mental illness, at 2.30am GMT this morning.

Mr. Shaikh was convicted of smuggling 4kg of heroin into China in September 2007. It is understood that he believed that he was travelling to China to record a hit single that would usher in world peace and was duped into carrying a suitcase packed with heroin by his “producer” (who was working for a criminal gang) on a flight from Tajikistan to the remote city of Urumqi in Northern China. Mr Shaikh had no experience of singing in public. Mr. Shaikh’s brother, Akbar Shaikh, stated that during his thirty minute trial his brother insisted on holding his own defence and was adamant that neither he nor his family had a history of mental illness. Witnesses say that his testimony was at times “so absurd” that even the judges were laughing.

Twenty-seven British ministerial representations had been made to the Chinese government in the past two years, including a personal plea made by Gordon Brown to Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, at the recent Copenhagen conference. The case was also taken up by the legal charity Reprieve, who obtained information and a medical report supporting a diagnosis of bipolar disorder in Mr. Shaikh. Reprieve paid for Dr Peter Schaapveld, a forensic psychologist, to fly to Urumqi to evaluate Mr. Shaikh in May 2009. The Chinese authorities had agreed to him meeting with Mr. Shaikh but then, after his arrival, reneged. Repeated requests since that time went ignored. Chinese authorities refused Dr Schaapveld an entry visa on Christmas Day, when he again offered to come to conduct a full and free evaluation.

The death sentence was upheld by China’s Supreme People’s Court on the 21st of December 2009. Appeals by Mr. Shaikh’s relatives to China’s President Hu Jintao and to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, which is responsible for considering petitions for pardon or clemency, were rejected last week.

Prior to Mr. Shaikh’s execution by lethal injection, the UN Special Rapporteur on Summary Executions, Philip Alston, had condemned Beijing’s stance. Insisting that there were “strong indications” Mr Shaikh suffered from a mental illness, he called the prospective death penalty “a major step backwards for China”.

China ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on 1 August 2008.

Article 13(1) of the CRPD states:

“States Parties shall ensure effective access to justice for persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others, including through the provision of procedural and age-appropriate accommodations, in order to facilitate their effective role as direct and indirect participants … in all legal proceedings …”


Further, Article 15(2) requires States Parties to the Convention to:
“…take all effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent persons with disabilities, on an equal basis with others, from being subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

Mr. Shaikh was the first European to be executed in China since 1951.

For more information and international reaction, see: here, here and here.

  1. December 29, 2009 at 11:22 pm | #1

    The taking of human life is murder. I do think that the Chinese Government has lost face in the international community over their murder of Akmal Shaikh and that they will live to regret this day.

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