Akmal Shaikh’s family request a coroner’s inquest

January 3, 2010

The family of Akmal Shaikh have today written to the British Government urging them to order an immediate inquest into his death in China.

As Akmal’s unnatural death occurred in prison, it falls under Section 8 of the Coroners Act mandating an inquest. The application is usually made to the coroner who has direct possession of the body. However, where the body is not returned to the UK (and is lying in a place from which it cannot be recovered) Section 15(1)(b) of the Coroners Act 1988 empowers the British government to order an inquest.

In his letter to Foreign Secretary David Miliband, Akbar Shaikh describes the secrecy shrouding his brother’s execution, and states:

“My family is suffering incredible grief and torment over the many unanswered questions surrounding Akmal’s death… We have begged the Chinese for answers … (I enclose the relevant statement issued by the family), but none have been forthcoming. All this uncertainty is just too much for the family to bear…. We therefore implore you to direct a coroner’s inquest so that some of our questions can be answered, and the terrible mysteries surrounding my brother’s apparent death, 7000 miles from his family and all alone, can be resolved for us.”

The full text of Akbar Shaikh’s letter is below, together with the family’s questions, which were submitted to the Chinese authorities on December 30th and seemingly ignored.

Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve’s director, said:

“Despite having flown to China to be with him, Akmal Shaikh’s family were not told of his death until he was already apparently buried in the frozen soil of Urumqi. Nobody told the family how or where he would be killed. No family member or independent observer was allowed to witness his death, view his body or verify his burial. We have only the word of a Chinese press release that he was even killed.

“An inquest would give this grieving family a crucial insight into Akmal’s final hours, his mental state and the extent to which he suffered before he died. Only then can they begin to recover from the trauma of Akmal’s lonely and senseless death.”

For more information contact Katherine O’Shea (katherine.oshea@reprieve.org.uk 020 7427 1099/ 07931592674).

NOTES FOR EDITORS:

Full text of letter to David Miliband from Shaikh family:

Dear Mr Miliband

I am writing on behalf of my dead brother, Akmal Shaikh, to report his death to you and to request, in his name and that of his entire family, that you direct the coroner to hold an inquest into his death to ascertain the full circumstances under which it took place.

I understand that an application is usually made to the coroner who has direct possession of the body of the deceased. Where the body is not returned to the UK, Section 15(1)(b) of the Coroners Act 1988 empowers you to order an inquest, if the body is lying in a place from which it cannot be recovered. I think the frozen soil of Urumqi satisfies those criteria.

My brother’s unnatural death occurred in prison, and therefore falls under Section 8 of the Act mandating an inquest.

My family is suffering incredible grief and torment over the many unanswered questions surrounding Akmal’s death. We have begged the Chinese for answers to these questions (I enclose the relevant statement issued by the family), but none have been forthcoming. Indeed, virtually no question has been answered in a procedure that lacked the most basic indicia of due process: the trial was held in secret; we did not hear about the death sentence for a year after the trial; the Chinese agreed twice to mental health evaluations, each time reneging on their agreement without giving a reason; the appeal was denied without written reasons, with the judges laughing at Akmal’s mental infirmity; the Supreme Court refused to allow the court-appointed lawyer to appear before them; the only reasons for the denial of the appeal were those that appeared in some kind of press release through the official news agency; nobody told us how or where Akmal would be executed; we have no idea how much he suffered; there was apparently no post-mortem; nobody from our family ever even saw him after he died (he had apparently been buried before we were even told that the execution took place); and we have only the word of a Chinese press release that he was even killed.

Even if these questions were, now, finally answered by the Chinese authorities, you will understand that we are hardly able to take at face value anything that they might say at this late point.

All this uncertainty is just too much for the family to bear. A grieving family is owed far more than this. We therefore implore you to direct a coroner’s inquest so that some of our questions can be answered, and the terrible mysteries surrounding my brother’s apparent death, 7000 miles from his family and all alone, can be resolved for us.

Yours sincerely,

Akbar Shaikh

Full text of family statement (released Dec 30):

As Akmal Shaikh’s family, we can no longer remain silent after listening to the recent statements from the Chinese authorities. Amongst other things, the statements noted, “During the legal process, Mr Shaikh’s rights and interests were properly respected and guaranteed and the concerns of the British side were duly noted and taken into consideration by the Chinese judicial authorities”; and, “As for his possible mental illness which has been much talked about, there apparently has been no previous medical record”.

We feel that we need to speak out for the sake of Akmal’s memory. We firmly believe Akmal should not have been killed by the Chinese – he was a vulnerable and mentally unstable man, yet he received no mental health assessment by the Chinese authorities at any stage during the proceedings against him. Various other evidence documenting his mental health, obtained in the UK and Poland, was simply not taken into account. We are outraged and shocked by this, and at the way the Chinese Government have made a mockery of appeals for clemency on behalf of Akmal by our Hon Prime Minster Gordon Brown, the Foreign Secretary and Foreign Office Ministers. When someone’s life is in question, it is simply not sufficient to issue a curt statement noting that British concerns were “duly noted and taken into consideration”. We call on the Chinese authorities to respond to our following concerns:

1. Pleas for Akmal’s mental health to be assessed in China were ignored throughout the proceedings against him. Why? The right to a medical assessment is fundamental for anyone facing execution. 2. We understand that Chinese law states that mental health must be taken into account in criminal proceedings. Why was this not followed in Akmal’s case? 3. The Chinese authorities state there has ‘apparently been no previous medical record’. To the contrary, the Chinese were provided with compelling evidence of his mental health problems, including evidence detailing his metal decline over several years and reports by the consultant Forensic Psychologist Dr. Schaapveld. Why was none of this taken into account? 4. During his second appeal hearing, Akmal made an incoherent and rambling statement, pleading for his life. It is a particularly distasteful element of this case that the presiding Judges laughed openly at Akmal’s speech, and viewed his behaviour as amusing rather than impaired. It is hardly surprising, given this lack of judicial professionalism, that Akmal’s appeal was denied, but the Chinese authorities have yet to show the basic decency sufficient to explain why. 5. In relation to his final appeal before the Supreme People’s Court, reports from the official Chinese news agency Xinhua stated that the Court had not been provided with any documentation proving that Akmal had a mental disorder. We sent copious amounts of evidence, so there are only two explanations: either the evidence of Akmal’s mental illness was not passed to the Supreme People’s Court by the Chinese authorities, or they never bothered to read it. Again, the Court still haven’t published their reasons for sanctioning Akmal’s death. 6. The Chinese authorities claim that Akmal’s right to a fair trial was respected. If that is so, why did his trial – a trial involving life and death – last a mere thirty minutes? Is it normal, as occurred in Akmal’s case, not to allow his lawyer to appear on his behalf before the Supreme Court? 7. From the moment Akmal was arrested he cooperated fully with the Chinese police. What efforts were made to apprehend the real culprit, and why was his full co-operation not taken into consideration by the court? 8. When Akmal Shaikh was arrested he was clearly suffering from a mental disorder, and our family who visited him 24 hours before his execution clearly noted how, during his two years in prison, his mental condition had declined still further. Why was he not provided with mental health treatment?

Given the horrors Akmal suffered over last days and weeks, we would like to know if is there any prospect of an apology from the Chinese authorities.

— Akbar Shaikh, on behalf of my dead brother and our entire family.

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Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives. Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

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