By: Hannah Cochrane
Pace International Law Review, Junior Associate
On Tuesday, December 29, 2009, China executed a European citizen for the first time in over fifty years. Akmal Shaikh, a British national, was executed on charges of drug smuggling, despite appeals for clemency on the basis of mental illness from his family, human rights groups and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Mr. Shaikh was convicted of smuggling 8.3 pounds of heroin into the western province of Xinjiang in September 2007. Under Chinese law, 1.76 ounces is sufficient to warrant the death penalty. China defended its actions in a statement by Jiang Yu, spokeswoman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “Everyone knows that international drug smuggling is a grave crime,” Jiang said in the December 22nd statement; “This case has always been handled according to law.”
However, Mr. Shaikh’s supporters insist otherwise, claiming he was mentally ill. Both Chinese law and international law clearly dictate that a person suffering from significant mental illness who has committed a crime should not be eligible for the death penalty. However, there are conflicting reports on the presence of mental illness in Mr. Shaikh. China insists there is no clear evidence of a disease, stating that Mr. Shaikh declared that he was not mentally ill and there was no presence of mental illness in his family.
Mr. Shaikh’s eldest daughter accuses the Chinese of refusing to conduct a psychological assessment of her father. Philip Alston, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Summary or Extrajudicial Executions, asked Chinese authorities to grant Mr. Shaikh clemency. In his issued statement, the reporter condemned the actions of the Chinese government stating that “[t]here are very strong indications that Mr. Shaikh suffer[ed] from mental illness and, on the information available, the Chinese courts failed to take this into account.”
Even Prime Minister Brown brought the issue before Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao during the Copenhagen climate change summit earlier last month. In a statement later issued by the Foreign Office, Prime Minister condemned the execution of Mr. Shaikh in the strongest terms. “I am appalled and disappointed that our persistent requests for clemency have not been granted. I am particularly concerned that no mental health assessment was undertaken.”
China still insists on no wrongdoing. “We hope that the British side can view this matter rationally, and not create new obstacles in bilateral relations,” Jiang said.