Family plea over death row Brit


PM Gordon Brown steps in as ‘mentally ill’ Brit faces death by firing squad

THE family of a London man facing execution in China have appealed to authorities to spare his life.

Akmal Shaikh, from north London, was arrested on 12 September 2007 at Urumqi airport in north western China after custom officers found 4kg of heroin in his bag.

Despite claiming he had no knowledge of the drugs, Mr Shaikh, a father –of-three, was sentenced to death by a Chinese court.

But family member, Akbar, said his brother was mentally ill and pleaded with Chinese authorities to spare his life.

Mr Shaikh’s case is currently pending before the People’s High Court of Xinjaing, and if his appeal fails he faces immediate execution by firing squad.

“My brother Akmal has struggled for many years with what we now know to be aserious mental illness. We are all very worried for Akmal’s safety as we know he isunable to defend himself properly,” his distraught brother Akbar said.

“He will be extremely disorientated and distressed right now. We are praying that theChinese courts will see that he is not of sound mind, and prevent his execution.”

Mr Shaikh’s case has been taken up by Reprieve – a human rights charity, while a number of high profile figures have voiced concern over his treatment.

The case is also being supported by mental health charities Mind and Sane.

Reprieve said Mr Shaikh has a lifelong history of erratic and bizarre behaviour and most likely to be suffering from bi-polar disorder and needs medical treatment.

They claimed Mr Shaikh travelled to China from Poland to start a pop career despite having no history of singing in public. Whilst in Poland he met a man who claimed he would help him do this. The man said he owned a nightclub in China and gave Mr Shaikh a bag containing the drugs haul before he boarded his flight to China.

Reprieve said Chinese authorities have refused forensic psychologist, Dr Peter Schaapveld, access to Mr Shaikh.

Dr Schaapveld, later spoke with Embassy staff and collected witness statements from individuals who had access to Mr Shaikh. He concluded: “The evidence clearly points to the fact that Mr. Shaikh was and/or is suffering from a severe mental disorder.”

Reprieve’s legal director Sally Rowen said the charity was “concerned about thewellbeing” of Mr Shaikh.

She said a number of e-mails sent by Mr Shaikh to the British Embassy in Poland while he was living there included “hundreds of pages of materials, many of which are rambling, incoherent and in 72 point font.”

The charity said the e-mails “reflected what was probably his manic phase at the time.”

“For mentally ill people like Akmal Shaikh, the experience of imprisonment can behighly traumatic,” Reprieve’s Sally Rowen said. “So imagine the frightening effect of being imprisoned in a country where you cannot speak the language and barelyunderstand what is happening to you. I am concerned about the wellbeing of AkmalShaikh, and I hope the Chinese authorities will recognise that he is vulnerable andneeds medical treatment.”

A number of high-profile figures have also spoken out in defence of Mr Shaikh.

Award-winning actor Stephen Fry voiced concern over his treatment saying: “Some death sentences are manifestly unfair. Suffering as I do from bipolar disorder, albeit in a much milder form than Akmal Shaikh, this case struck me as being very important for the world to be aware of. The basic principle … we understand, I hope if we have an ounce of humanity, is that some people do things under delusions.”

A statement released by the Foreign Office said Prime Minister Gordon Brown had already taken a “personal interest” in the case and had “raised it several times with the Chinese leadership.”




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