Reprieve is 'sickened' by heartless use of the death penalty

By staff writers
December 30, 2009

The anti-capital punishment and human rights NGO, Reprieve, has condemned in the strongest terms the latest state execution in China - that of a mentally ill Briton who supporters say was conned into drug smuggling.

Sally Rowen, legal director of the respected campaign group, which has also been involved in high-profile work against abuses in Guantanamo Bay, said yesterday: "The death of Akmal Shaikh is a sad indictment of today's world, and particularly of China's legal system. We at Reprieve are sickened by what we have seen during our work on this case."

After Mr Shaikh was executed at 2.30pm GMT on 29 December 2009, the Chinese ambassador in London was called into the Foreign Office to hear the British government's revulsion at his government's action, and its refusal to respond to calls for clemency from around the world.

Opposition and faith leaders joined the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, in condemning the judicial murder.

As the diplomatic row escalated, the Chinese ambassador claimed that "there apparently has been no previous medical record" of Mr Shaikh's bipolar disorder. But his family say this is untrue.

The Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, who previously worked as a European trade negotiator with China, also pointed out on the BBC that the country's own legal code should have required an independent medical inspection.

The EU issued a statement saying: "The European Union condemns in the strongest terms the execution of Akmal Shaikh. It deeply regrets the fact that China has not heeded the repeated calls by the European Union and one of its member states for the death sentence passed against Mr Shaikh to be commuted."

Reprieve's director Clive Stafford Smith said: “Sad to say, I have watched six people die in execution chambers, and it is as ghastly as it is pointless. Is the world somehow a better place today because China refused to show compassion for an obviously ill man? Of course not. China’s refusal to even allow a proper medical evaluation is simply disgusting.”

Akmal Shaikh's family issued a brief statement: “The family express their grief at the Chinese decision to refuse mercy; thank all those who tried hard to bring about a different result – including Reprieve, the FCO, those who attended the vigil, and the organisers of the Facebook group who garnered more than 5000 members in a few short days; and ask the media and public to respect their privacy as they come to terms with what has happened to someone they loved.”

Simon Barrow, co-director of the think-tank Ekklesia, commented: "The cruel execution of a man with obvious mental health problems shows once again that capital punishment is barbaric and an affront to human dignity. It has nothing to do with justice. The tragic case of Akmal Shaikh should encourage the redoubling of efforts by civil society organisations, faith groups and diplomats to press those countries that continue to implement the death penalty - including China, Iran and the United States - to end judicial killing. A further international round-table on the issue is also overdue."

Akmal Shaikh became the first European executed in China for 58 years. The last person was an Italian, Antonio Riva, who was shot by a firing squad in 1951, along with a Japanese man, Ruichi Yamaguchi, after being convicted of involvement in what China alleged was an American plot to assassinate Mao Zedong and other high-ranking Communist officials.

To support the work of Reprieve, go to: http://www.reprieve.org.uk/

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