Save Akmal Shaikh from execution: ACT NOW

October 12, 2009

Image of Akmal Shaikh

Akmal’s appeal has just been denied in the High Court; it is now with the Supreme People’s Court, and he faces possible execution within days.

Please email Foreign Secretary David Miliband NOW asking him to intervene on Akmal Shaikh‘s behalf; here is the address and a message you can use:

Dear Mr Miliband I am very concerned at the plight of Akmal Shaikh, the British national who is facing execution in China. I understand from Reprieve that the Chinese legal system has not taken into account his serious mental illness, bi-polar disorder.

Anyone with experience of this illness must understand how it can affect someone’s ability to behave. Whatever Mr Shaikh may or may not have done, it is very important that this be considered in mitigation.

Please ensure that the Government immediately files a legal pleading as a friend of the court on Mr Shaikh’s behalf in the Chinese Supreme Court.

Yours sincerely,



Akmal Shaikh, a Londoner, is facing imminent execution in China for carrying drugs; Reprieve believes he suffers from a serious mental illness and is urgently asking Prime Minister Gordon Brown to intervene.  The following people have spoken out in support of  Akmal:

Stephen Fry: “Some death sentences are manifestly unfair. Suffering as I do from bipolar disorder, albeit in a much milder form than Akmal Shaikh, this case struck me as being very important for the world to be aware of. The basic principle … we understand, I hope if we have an ounce of humanity, is that some people do things under delusions.”

Philip Gould, former political strategist: “I knew Akmal Shaikh when he lived in London. I came to like him and I am sorry he is in such serious trouble. It appears that he was behaving irrationally at the time of the offence and I suspect he was emotionally disturbed. I do not want Akmal to escape justice, however equally I do not believe he should be executed. I very much hope that the Chinese government are able to spare his life.”

Mark Oaten, MP: “It is clear from what I have read about this case that Akmal suffers from a mental illness and that to impose capital punishment on him would be totally unjust as the Chinese constitution itself says. I would strongly urge Gordon Brown to personally involve himself in this case as a matter of urgency. The British Government need to do everything they can to make representations to the Chinese authorities to save Akmal’s life”.

Lynne Jones, MP: “I was shocked and saddened to hear Akmal Shaikh’s story and my heart goes out to his family. Akmal was clearly very vulnerable and it is a shame that he did not receive help for his illness before he got in such serious trouble. I can only imagine his current distress and I implore the Chinese authorities not to carry out his execution.”

Akbar Shaikh, Akmal’s brother:“My brother Akmal has struggled for many years with what we now know to be a serious mental illness. We are all very worried for Akmal’s safety as we know he is unable to defend himself properly. He will be extremely disorientated and distressed right now. We are praying that the Chinese courts will see that he is not of sound mind, and prevent his execution.”

Dr Peter Schaapveld, Consultant Clinical and Forensic Psychologist: “The evidence clearly points to the fact that Mr Shaikh was and/or is suffering from a severe mental disorder. It likely that he became involved with these drug smugglers entirely for delusional reasons. It is also likely that these professional drug smugglers knew he was vulnerable and intellectually compromise by virtue of mental disorder and knew he could be manipulated to act illegally for them. He thus should be as a matter of urgency assessed by a mental health professional and treated accordingly.”

Marjorie Wallace, Chief Executive, SANE: “We hope the Chinese authorities will realise that punishment is not the way to treat someone already punished by tormenting mental disturbance. What Akmal Shaikh needs is psychological assessment and, if necessary, skilled treatment.”

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive, Mind: “Mind is supporting Reprieve’s quest for leniency for Akmal Shaikh. Not everywhere in the world considers mental health issues in the same way we do in the UK and different countries have very different understandings about what constitutes discrimination. What is universal though is humanity. It is clear that Akmal was unwell and that his actions were influenced by the deterioration in his mental health. Bipolar disorder can cause people to behave erratically and do things that they would not usually do. This is a tragic set of circumstances and it is unjust that he faces paying such a high penalty for his illness. We urge the Foreign and Commonwealth office to do everything they can to intervene on Akmal’s behalf.”

Sally Rowen, Legal Director, Death Penalty, Reprieve:“For mentally ill people like Akmal Shaikh, the experience of imprisonment can be highly traumatic. So imagine the frightening effect of being imprisoned in a country where you cannot speak the language and barely understand what is happening to you. I am concerned about the wellbeing of Akmal Shaikh, and I hope the Chinese authorities will recognise that he is vulnerable and needs medical treatment.”

Notes for Editors:


Akmal Shaikh, a British national from London, is facing imminent execution in China. Reprieve has strong evidence that he is seriously mentally ill, most likely suffering from bi-polar disorder. Akmal has a lifelong history of erratic and bizarre behaviour. People we have spoken to who knew Akmal have said “he seemed crazy to me” and that “he was severely mentally disturbed”.

Case history

Akmal was arrested on 12 September 2007 in Urumqi airport in northwestern China and is alleged to have been carrying around 4 kg of heroin. He told officials that the suitcase did not belong to him and that he did not know anything about the drugs. The Chinese authorities did not inform the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) of Akmal’s death sentence until several months after it had been handed down.

Akmal’s case is now pending before the People’s High Court of Xinjaing. If the Court denies his appeal the case will go to the People’s Supreme Court, which only considers errors of law. If that appeal also fails, Akmal will face immediate execution by a single bullet to the back of the head.

Akmal has always maintained that he went to China to start a career as a pop star (he has no history of singing in public). While living in Poland (he moved there with plans to set up an airline which he clearly did not have the financial means to do) he wrote a song with a man named Carlos which they wanted to record. Carlos told him that he knew people in the music business that could assist and Akmal was sent to Kyrgyzstan.

The people he met with there took his passport and money but Akmal figured that he would become famous so didn’t really need them. He was then asked to go to China where a man named Okole said he owned a night club at which Akmal could sing, Akmal agreed to go. En route to China, Okole and Akmal stayed in a 5 star hotel in Tajikistan which Akmal believed was a sign of his celebrity status. Upon arrival Okole told Akmal he would have to travel from there to China alone as there was only one seat left on the flight. Okole gave him a bag to take with him, and said he would be on the next flight.

At this point Akmal became suspicious and looked through the bag, in the presence of Okole, but found nothing amiss. When he landed in China the police stopped him, searched his bag and arrested him on drug charges. Akmal cooperated fully with them telling them who gave him the suitcase, and why, and helped them set up a sting operation to catch the person – who naturally did not show up on the plane as promised.

Mental health issues

It seems clear that Akmal became involved in all this for delusional reasons. It is highly likely that these professional drug smugglers knew that he was suffering from a mental illness and could be readily manipulated. Obviously if this happened in the UK Akmal’s mental health would have been taken into account.

The Chinese authorities originally indicated that they were willing to let a local doctor assess him but this was later refused. Reprieve with the assistance of the FCO also sought permission for Dr Peter Schaapveld, a forensic psychologist, to see Akmal and paid for him to pay for him to fly to China but upon arrival he was denied access to Akmal, no explanation as to why was given.

At his appeal hearing on 26 May 2009, which coincided with Dr Schaapveld’s visit Akmal insisted on reading a long, rambling and often incoherent statement to the Court, despite being strongly advised by his lawyers not to. Dr Schaapveld was not permitted to attend this hearing and Embassy staffs were not allowed to take notes.

Around the same time Reprieve obtained hundreds of e-mails that Akmal sent the British Embassy in Poland when he was living there. There are hundreds of pages of materials, many of which are rambling, incoherent and in 72 POINT FONT, reflecting what was probably his manic phase at the time.

Although Dr Schaapveld was unable to meet with Akmal he spoke to Embassy staff while visiting China, we have also provided him with witness statements from people knew Akmal as well as the e-mails sent to the Embassy in Poland. Dr Schaapveld concludes that “the evidence clearly points to the fact that Mr. Shaikh was and/or is suffering from a severe mental disorder”.


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