Chinese Hit Back in Row over Briton's Execution; PM 'Appalled' at the Failure to Grant Clemency

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Byline: Mike Jones

THE execution of British citizen Akmal Shaikh by China sparked a diplomatic war of words between London and Beijing yesterday.

Convicted drug smuggler Shaikh, who is believed to have suffered from bipolar disorder, was killed by lethal injection despite pleas for his mental health to be considered.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who had telephoned Chinese premier Wen Jiabao to urge him to halt the execution, said he was "appalled and disappointed" at the failure to grant clemency.

Chinese officials in both capitals hit back with an insistence that Shaikh had "no previous medical record" of mental illness and a warning not to meddle in China's judicial affairs.

The row culminated last night in a "difficult" showdown between Foreign Office minister Ivan Lewis and China's Ambassador Fu Ying after she was summoned to explain her country's action.

Emerging from the meeting, Mr Lewis said he "made clear that the execution of Mr Shaikh was totally unacceptable and that China had failed in its basic human rights responsibilities".

Shaikh, 53, from Kentish Town, north London, who was arrested in Urumqi, north west China, in September 2007, was convicted of smuggling 4kg of heroin into the country.

But it is widely believed by his family and supporters that he was seriously mentally ill and was duped into carrying the drugs unknowingly by a gang.

Campaigners said the courts in China failed to commission an assessment of his medical condition in spite of his obvious mental illness, believed to be bipolar disorder.

Some 27 separate representations were made at ministerial level on Shaikh's behalf to the Chinese authorities as intense efforts were made to spare his life. Shaikh's cousins, Soohail and Nasir Shaikh, travelled to China to visit their cousin in prison but their last-minute plea for clemency also failed.

The family said they were "deeply saddened, stunned and disappointed" by the execution, which mental health campaigners criticised as "medieval rough justice gone badly wrong".

Robert Westhead, a spokesman for MDF, the Bipolar Organisation, said: "The way the Chinese authorities have stubbornly failed to take account of this poor man's severe mental illness shows that China is still in the dark ages."

In a statement issued through the human rights group Reprieve, the two Shaikh brothers attacked as "ludicrous" suggestions that Akmal should have provided evidence of his own condition.

"Despite our own and other pleas, the Chinese authorities have maintained their refusal to investigate Akmal's mental health. …