A Briton who has a history of mental illness and is delusional has been put to death by lethal injection by the Chinese authorities today despite last-minute pleas from his family and the British government.
Akmal Shaikh is the first European citizen to be executed in China in 50 years.
Of Pakistani descent, Shaikh was arrested in September 2007 for being in possession of 4 kilograms of heroin in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. People who tried to campaign for his release said he was mentally ill and was exploited by a criminal gang into carrying the drugs. They duped him by saying that he would become a singing sensation if he went to China.
His trial last year was only half an hour long and under the 1997 Criminal Code, a mental patient who is unable to recognize or control his own misconduct does not bear criminal responsibility; in other words, the person will not be handed a punishment. The defendant will be put under the care of a guardian or medical facility. If the mental patient is partially able to understand his crime, the punishment will be reduced.
However, during the trial, the fact that Shaikh is mentally ill was not brought up in court at all. Against the advice of his lawyers, Shaikh was allowed to speak in court and apparently babbled on incoherently that the court officials laughed at him. That also did not result in granting him a medical evaluation to determine his mental capacity.
Just days before his execution, two of his cousins flew to Urumqi to see him, and to tell him he was to be sentenced to death, and then they came to Beijing to plea to the central government to spare his life. UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown spoke to Premier Wen Jiabao about the case, but the pleas did nothing. The Chinese government claimed that it was following the rule of law and that the Supreme Court had already handed its final decision and nothing more could be done.
Why has the government chosen to ignore this crucial fact that would have led to him being released?
Instead it prefers to reiterate that he smuggled in 4kg of heroin, 80 times over the allowed amount, that he committed a crime, pure and simple.
But what about other previous cases, like Deng Yujiao, the waitress who killed a man out of self defense and later in court it was revealed she was mentally unstable? In the end she was given a reprieve from the death sentence.
Or what about the Shanghai cop killer Yang Jia who was at least evaluated for his mental capacity before executing him?
While Shaikh committed a serious offense, he did not murder anyone.
The UK government has already criticized the verdict and execution, with Prime Minister Gordon Brown saying, "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," in a statement issued by the British Foreign Office. "I am particularly concerned that no mental health assessment was undertaken."
Meanwhile China reacted in defiance. "Nobody has the right to speak ill of China's judicial sovereignty," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said. "We express our strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition over the groundless British accusations."
China can make whatever judgments it wants as long as it properly follows its own legal procedures.
If it doesn't even abide by its own rule of law, how can China be considered just?