The truth about Akmal Shaikh

By Simon Barrow
December 29, 2009

The fine campaigning group Reprieve issued a statement today which sets out very clearly why China's execution of a man with mental health problems is beyond any justification.

They commented: "As sometimes happens when the hours are ticking down to execution, the media coverage [of the Akmal Shaikh case] provoked impartial witnesses – in this case, six - to come forward at the last minute, each concerned that an injustice was about to take place. Reprieve took statements from each person, and passed them onto the Chinese authorities. This all fell on deaf ears as apparently the bureaucracy was too unwieldy or uncaring to change terrible plans.

Luis Belmonte Diaz, a Spanish photographer based in Warsaw, provided pictures of Akmal down and out in Poland. Paul Newberry, a British national who has lived 15 years in Poland, took part in Akmal’s delusional “Come Little Rabbit” recording and detailed his mental illness. A third witness, Gareth Saunders, is a British teacher and musician who sang backup on the song in an effort to humour a gentle but delusional man. Jacek Gniadek, a Roman Catholic Priest, was Project Manager at the Migrant Centre Fu Shenfu in Warsaw, that Akmal used to frequent when he was homeless and in a steep psychological decline. Sister Alicja Prejzner is a nun who also worked there. Finally, Akmal’s GP Dr Martin Harris came forward to call for a full evaluation of his former patient.

Members of the Shaikh family joined a respectful vigil outside the Chinese Embassy as the hours counted down towards execution. They continued to beg the Chinese authorities to show mercy by all avenues possible. This, too, elicited no compassion.

The last minute failure to allow a proper medical evaluation followed months of intransigence by the Chinese authorities. Reprieve first asked for an evaluation by a local expert in April 2009, which was initially granted but then refused. Reprieve paid for Dr Peter Schaapveld to fly more than 7,000 miles to Urumqi to evaluate Akmal in May 2009. The Chinese had agreed to him meeting with Akmal but then, after his arrival, reneged. Repeated requests since that time went ignored. Chinese authorities refused Dr Schaapveld an entry visa on Christmas Day, when he again offered to come to conduct a full and free evaluation. China could have allowed a full medical evaluation months ago and still concluded the case this year."

Reprieve's excellent work can be followed and supported here: http://www.reprieve.org.uk/

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