Chinese Supreme Court denies Akmal Shaikh’s appeal; mentally ill British national is set to die on December 29, first EU national to be executed in China in 50 years

December 21, 2009

The People’s Supreme Court of China today denied the appeal of British citizen Akmal Shaikh, and his execution was set for December 29.

Mr Shaikh is a British national from Kentish Town, London, and is married with three children. He was arrested on 12 September 2007 in Urumqi, north-west China, charged with smuggling drugs.

Reprieve discovered vital information that Mr Shaikh suffers from bi-polar disorder (formerly referred to as manic depression). This has been supported by a medical report from Dr Peter Schaapveld, a forensic psychologist, who believes it very likely that Mr Shaikh’s strange behaviour was “influenced or caused by” his mental illness.  Mr Shaikh suffered the delusion that he was going to record a hit single in China that would usher in world peace.  In additional to uncovering a long history of strange behaviour, Reprieve located a recording of the bizarre song (which is about rabbits in a mixture of English, Polish and Arabic — the lyrics are below; the song may be heard on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFv0eS5p9hs)

The mental health evidence strongly supported the statement Mr Shaikh made when he was arrested, when he told the officials that he did not know about the drugs, and that the suitcase did not belong to him. The drug gang had apparently identified someone who was easily manipulated. They promised to help him record his song, but when they all arrived at the airport, the leader of the gang told Mr Shaikh that there was only one seat left on the plane – would he mind taking along a suitcase for them, since they had brought it all the way from the hotel? Mr Shaikh aided the Chinese authorities with their inquiries and told them as much as he could about the incident. Despite this, the Court sentenced him to death in November 2008.

Mr Shaikh’s final appeal was turned down today, Monday 21st December.  His execution date was set at once, for the 29th.

Chinese experts have joined Dr Schaapveld in calling for a proper mental health evaluation.  Akmal’s last chance appears to be clemency; China has formally signed the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 6, section 4 of which provides: “Anyone sentenced to death penalty shall have the right to seek pardon or commutation of the sentence. Amnesty, pardon or commutation of the sentence of death may be granted in all cases”.

The best chance for saving Mr Shaikh’s life is for Prime Minister Gordon Brown to make representations to President Hu Jintao; Reprieve calls for the Prime Minister’s urgent, sensitive and immediate assistance.

“Britain and the US chose to make China the scapegoat at Copenhagen which, given US intransigence over the past decade, might be viewed as hypocritical, ” said Reprieve’s director Clive Stafford Smith. “We very much hope that Akmal Shaikh does not become a victim of the regrettably cold political climate that has resulted.  The Prime Minister should speak directly with President Hu, emphasize that Chinese compassion would be viewed as a great favour to the British people, and note the consistent view of Chinese and British doctors that a full mental health assessment is vital to assess how Akmal’s illness contributed to the offence.

“I just spoke to Akmal’s brother about this terrible news, and it is impossible to imagine what Akmal’s family are going through this holiday season,” continued Mr Stafford Smith.  “This is no time for pride – they beg the Chinese authorities to show compassion and take Akmal’s mental health problems into account.”

For more information please contact Clive Stafford Smith (07940 347125; clivestaffordsmith@mac.com) or Sally Rowen at Reprieve (sally.rowen@reprieve.org.uk 020 7427 1099/ 07773 348833).  

Lyrics of Akmal’s Song:

(Instrumental)

Come little rabbit, come to me

Come little rabbit let it be,

Come little rabbit come and pray

La la ill la la la, ill la la la (repeat x 3)

Come little rabbit, come to me,

Come little rabbit come and play

Come little rabbit let us sing

La la ill la la la, ill la la la (repeat x 3)

Tylko jedno ludzi            [Only one people]

Tylko jedno swiat           [Only one world]

Tylko jedno Bóg             [Only one God]

La la ill la la la (repeat x 3)

Come little rabbit, come to me

Come little rabbit let it be,

Come little rabbit let us pray

La la ill la la la (repeat x 3)

Come little rabbit, come to me,

Come little rabbit come and play

Come little rabbit let us sing

La la ill la la la

(Only One God [in Arabic] x 2)

Tylko jedno ludzi            (Only one people)

Tylko jedno swiat           (Only one world)

Tylko jedno Bóg            (Only one God [in Turkish])

La la ill la la (until fade out)

(Come little rabbit come to me)

(Come little rabbit come and play….)

Notes for Editors:

Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives.  Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

Reprieve’s current casework involves representing 33 prisoners in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, working on behalf of prisoners facing the death penalty, and conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’

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