Page last updated at 18:04 GMT, Monday, 21 December 2009

Briton faces execution in China

Akmal Shaikh
Akmal Shaikh was arrested in north west China in 2007

A Briton is facing execution in China for drug smuggling after his appeal was rejected by China's Supreme People's Court.

Akmal Shaikh, 51, of north London, was arrested in September 2007 in Urumqi, north-west China, but denies knowledge of the 4kg of heroin he had with him.

A legal charity says Mr Shaikh suffers from bipolar disorder and is mentally-ill but the court denied the appeal.

The Foreign Office confirmed the court has set his execution for 29 December.

He would become the first EU national to be executed in China in 50 years.

A Foreign & Commonwealth Office spokesman said the government was "alarmed and deeply concerned" at the news and it would "renew and intensify" appeals to the Chinese for clemency.

It "deeply regrets" that mental health concerns have no bearing on the final judgment turning down his appeal and ministers and the Prime Minister were "closely engaged", he added.

But legal charity Reprieve, which campaigns for fair trials and promotes human rights, called on Gordon Brown to intervene and "speak directly" to the Chinese president.

'Duped'

Reprieve's director, Clive Stafford Smith, said: "We very much hope that Akmal Shaikh does not become a victim of the regrettably cold political climate that has resulted [from Copenhagen].

"The Prime Minister should speak directly with President Hu, emphasise 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."

Mr Shaikh's family were "begging" the Chinese authorities to show compassion and consider his mental health problems, he added.

Reprieve said Dr Peter Schaapveld, a forensic psychologist, believes it was very likely that Mr Shaikh's strange behaviour was "influenced or caused by" his mental illness.

It said Chinese experts have joined Dr Schaapveld in calling for a proper mental health evaluation.

The charity claims Shaikh has always maintained he went to China to start a career as a pop star, despite no history of public singing, having previously lived in Poland where he tried to set up an airline.

It says he was duped into carrying a bag for someone who claimed to be able to give him work in a nightclub, only for police to find the heroin when he landed in China.

Reprieve said Mr Shaikh's last chance appears to be clemency because China has formally signed the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).



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