Akmal Shaikh, mentally ill British national who has been sentenced to death in China, will today plead for his life in court

May 26, 2009

British citizen Akmal Shaikh today faces an appeal court in China, where he will plead for his life. Reprieve has grave concerns for Mr Shaikh, who may not be fit to stand trial, let alone face execution.

Mr Shaikh is a British national from Kentish Town, London, and is married with three British children. He was arrested on 12 September 2007 in Urumqi, north-west China, charged with smuggling drugs.

Reprieve has uncovered vital information that Mr Shaikh suffers from bi-polar disorder (formerly referred to as manic depression). This is supported by a preliminary medical report from Dr Peter Schaapveld, a consultant clinical and forensic psychologist. Dr. Schaapveld believes it very likely that Mr Shaikh’s strange behaviour was “influenced or caused by” his mental illness.

When arrested, Mr Shaikh told the officials that he did not know about the drugs, and that the suitcase did not belong to him. Mr Shaikh aided the Chinese authorities with their inquiries and it appears that he told them as much as he could about the incident. Despite this, the Court sentenced him to death in November 2008. Mr Shaikh’s appeal will be heard today, Tuesday 26th May, by the District Court in Urumqi. If this is unsuccessful, he will attempt a final appeal in the People’s Supreme Court; if this too fails, he is likely to be executed very quickly.

Reprieve has documented Mr Shaikh’s long history of mental illness, and applied to the Chinese to allow a mental health evaluation in prison. The court refused to allow him to see a Chinese psychiatrist, and Reprieve’s application for Dr Schaapveld to evaluate Mr Shaikh has so far been denied. Mr Shaikh was given an automatic death sentence, where no fact is considered relevant in mitigation.

The best chance to save Mr Shaikh’s life is for Prime Minister Gordon Brown to make representations to President Hu Jintao; Reprieve calls for the Prime Minister’s urgent and immediate assistance.

“Akmal Shaikh faces the possibility of a hollow-point bullet to the back of the head sometime very soon, unless Gordon Brown makes strong representations to President Hu, ” said Reprieve’s director Clive Stafford Smith. “And at a bare minimum, the Prime Minister can surely ensure that we get a mental health expert in to see Mr Shaikh, so we can prove the seriousness of Mr Shaikh’s illness to the Chinese courts.”

-ENDS-

For more information please contact Katherine O’Shea at Reprieve’s Press Office katherine.oshea@reprieve.org.uk 020 7427 1099.

Notes for Editors:

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.

Reprieve’s current casework involves representing 33 prisoners in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, working on behalf of prisoners facing the death penalty, and conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’

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