NEW EVIDENCE emerges in the Akmal Shaikh case showing his illness; Reprieve makes new application to the Chinese authorities

December 29, 2009

As the hours count down to his execution, witnesses have surfaced in Poland attesting to Akmal Shaikh’s mental illness, and his obsession with recording the song that will usher in world peace.

Akmal’s execution is set for 10.30am on Tuesday morning, Urumqi time (2.30am GMT).

Yet due to the publicity surrounding the case, new witnesses are coming forward who strongly support the defence to the charges against Akmal.

Without exception, these witnesses support the case that Akmal was homeless in Poland, and obsessed with recording a song about rabbits that would usher in world peace when he was apparently exploited by drug traffickers, and unwittingly took a suitcase with hidden drugs into China — thinking that he was going to record his song.

As sometimes happens when the hours are ticking down to execution, the media coverage has provoked four impartial witnesses to come forward, each concerned that an injustice is about to take place. Two new photographs have also emerged of Akmal Shaikh, taken during the period in which he was severely mentally ill and exploited by a drug gang.

The photos were taken by Luis Belmonte Diaz, a Spanish photographer based in Warsaw, who has also provided a witness statement about Mr Shaikh’s behaviour at that time. The photos are attached for use in covering Akmal’s case: Luis Belmonte Diaz must be credited. More photos are to come.

As the first new witness, Mr Diaz saw the media coverage about the case and, while he is traveling and not currently in Poland, immediately contacted Reprieve. He states as follows:

When he was in Poland, I was following him for more than a year with my camera.

During all the time I was following him he told me a lot of things about his life in the UK, his family there, his family in Poland, and how he arrived, first to Lublin and then to Warsaw.

He was living in very stressful circumstances – he seemed stuck in Poland, without money, and without any way of making a living. It seemed clear to me that he was mentally ill. He told me all kinds of crazy things. I was not sure what to believe and what not to believe.

He told me how recorded his song in a local radio studio. He was obsessed with the fact that this song was somehow going to achieve great things.

I still remember the day when I received his last SMS saying he was going to Kyrgyzstan.

Reprieve has provided two of the photographs that he took of Akmal, attached below. A picture of Akmal’s down-and-out time in Poland paints a thousand words. More photographs will be available in 5 hours (18.00 GMT). These photographs must be credited to Mr Belmonte.

A second is Paul Newberry, a British national who lives in Poland, and knew Akmal there. Akmal was homeless, lost in his delusions. His declaration to the Chinese authorities states as follows:

“I was probably one of the last people who saw Akmal before he left Poland in August 2007. I met Akmal in spring 2007 when he started hanging around the tent city that protesting nurses had set up outside the Polish Prime Minister’s offices in Warsaw. The protest attracted a range of “colourful” characters and he was one of them.

As I was British, and was with a British friend, Akmal latched onto us. Immediately it was clear that he was mentally ill, although he was a very likeable person, friendly and very open. However, he was clearly suffering from delusions and it seemed to me he was a particularly severe case of manic depressive.

I told him a number of times that he should see a doctor, that he was ill, but he just laughed. Any person would have been offended had he been a normal person not in the middle of a psychosis. Akmal lived in his own fantasy world – it was difficult for us to know what was fantasy and what was reality when he talked. He told us he was living in some kind of centre for refugees or asylum seekers in Warsaw, but I have no idea where that was exactly.

He showed us the lyrics to the song “Run Little Rabbit” written on a paper napkin and tried to convince us it would be a hit. For a few weeks he pestered us until finally we agreed to record it with him. I have no idea who paid for the recording studio but I think he used his charm and persistence to persuade the owner to let him record the song. I can’t imagine anyone singing worse than he did on that recording and we told him so, but he was on such a high, convinced that he would have a huge hit.

We told him that he was crazy, that it was the worst thing we had ever heard, but he just laughed in our face and repeated that it would be huge. So he had this recording on CD and he started playing it to people in Warsaw. He claimed he’d played it to a DJ in a top nightclub in Warsaw and everyone loved it.

Then my friend got a text message from him to say he was going away to Kyrgyzstan (I think it was that country although it could have been another one of those dodgy ex-USSR states bordering China). I think that was the end of August 2007. We never heard of him again.

He had no money but was never desperate for it. He was clearly not desperate enough to smuggle heroin to China. From what I know of him, I would be astounded if he had done that. However, I would not be surprised at all to learn that he thought he was going to record a song that would usher in world peace. That would fit entirely with the pattern of his mental illness.

I join his family in urging the Chinese authorities to have him fully evaluated. I also join them in pleading for mercy for Akmal, who I know to be a very, very ill person.”

Mr Newberry played the bass on the dreadful song (Come Little Rabbit) that Akmal thought would usher in world peace. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFv0eS5p9hs

A third witness is Gareth Saunders, a British teacher and musician who sang backup on the song. He states as follows:

“I met Akmal in Warsaw about two-and-a-half years ago on a protest organised by Polish nurses. He was a very open and positive person despite the fact he was living in poor conditions in a kind of Polish community centre, seemingly homeless.

We met every day throughout the duration of the protest which lasted about three weeks. As I am a musician, he wanted me to help with the recording of his future “international hit” (called ‘Come Little Rabbit’). He organised a studio for free and wanted to practice the song with me and Paul Newberry who played the bass on the song. I was responsible for some of the backing vocals.

It was clear that Akmal had absolutely no musical talent, no sense of timing and the song itself was dreadful. Throughout the recording he was jumping around in his best imitation of a rock star. We made it clear to him that this was a hopeless song, but he was still adamant that we were being negative and Come Little Rabbit was what the world had been waiting for.

He seemed to think it would bring about world peace, or something bizarre like that. Even though this was a crazy idea, Paul and I helped him, as he always meant so well, and he clearly thought this song was going to have a very positive impact on the world.

I occasionally met Akmal two weeks subsequent to the nurse’s protest (I think in August 2007) once to go go-karting with him and some Irish people who were in Warsaw celebrating a wedding until the early hours of the morning. This was a very sad experience in a way. The Irish were being very cruel to Akmal, making jokes and unkind remarks about him. But he took it all in good spirits, and never complained about it.

The final time I saw him was in the subway system in the centre of Warsaw when he mentioned he was going abroad for a couple of weeks. This must have been when he flew to China.

Because I was concerned about him, I tried to contact him after by mobile but it appeared he’d disappeared off the radar screen, but I was not successful. I assumed he’d returned to the UK as he’d had problems living in Poland. But now it appears he was on death row in China when I thought he was back in the UK.

I am not an expert in mental illness, and at the time I was unaware of the diagnosis of bipolar disorder. However, it was very clear that totally delusional. He perpetually thought things were going to work out in ways that had nothing to do with the reality around him. He would think that his grand plans would come about, though it was clear to the rest of us that they would not.

It would be totally unlike him to get mixed up in drugs. However, it would be totally typical of him to fall for some kind of story that some drug dealer might spin to him concerning making his record in China. Indeed, I remember one time when I met Akmal in a bookshop for a coffee. It was an area of Warsaw where any normal person would know a lot of drug dealers would hang out. But Akmal would be oblivious to that. He would be so desperate for human contact that if some shady character came up to him to talk, Akmal would have gone on and on about his song, and it would have been easy for someone to see that he could be exploited. Anyone could recognize that. I am no expert, and I certainly did.

I very much hope that the Chinese authorities show clemency to Akmal, as he was a very gentle person, and would not have consciously got involved in the crime for which he apparently stands convicted.”

Fourth, Akmal’s GP Dr Martin Harris, has come forward asking for a full evaluation of his patient:

Mr Akmal Shaikh date of birth 05 April 1956

Mr Akmal Shaikh was my registered patient with his family when he lived in London.

I do remember Mr Akmal Shaikh although it is several years since I last saw him.

Yesterday 27 December I saw the report on Sky News for the first time that Mr Akmal Shaikh has been detained by Chinese Courts.

I read that Mr Akmal Shaikh has been charged with drug smuggling. In my experience of Mr Akmal Shaikh this is totally out of character of the patient I knew. As his doctor, I am concerned that Mr Akmal Shaikh has since progressive medical and mental conditions.

I immediately made contact with The British Foreign Office. I wish to assist Mr Akmal Shaikh in his medical and mental condition, if necessary in China.

Please do not hesitate to contact me. I certainly wish to help.

Members of the Shaikh family are joining a respectful vigil outside the Chinese Embassy at 3pm UK time. They continue to beg the Chinese authorities to show mercy.

Soohail and Nasir Shaikh delivered the petition for clemency to the trial judge in Urumqi this morning. Akmal was advised that he faced execution in 24 hours. He met with his first cousins for an hour and a half, in the presence of Chinese officials.

Upon leaving their meeting the brothers issued a statement.

“He was obviously very upset on hearing from us of the sentence that was passed. We strongly feel that he’s not rational and he needs medication,” said Soohail Shaikh. 
”We feel a pardon would allow Akmal to get the medical assistance he needs as well as the healing love from his family.”

Soohail and Nasir are currently en route to Beijing to deliver petitions for clemency to the Chinese President, Supreme People’s Court, and National People’s Congress.

The last European to be executed in China 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.

“It is a troubling element of the death penalty that critical evidence sometimes comes to light at the last moment, when witnesses hear about an impending execution. While it must be torture for Akmal going through this, the last minute nature of this evidence is an example of why there must always be last-minute clemency,” said Reprieve’s director Clive Stafford Smith.

For more information the primary contact at Reprieve is Sally Rowen (sally.rowen@reprieve.org.uk 020 7427 1099/ 07773 348833) or Clive Stafford Smith (07940 347125; clivestaffordsmith@mac.com).

* * *

Lyrics of Akmal’s Song:

(Instrumental)

Come little rabbit, come to me

Come little rabbit let it be,

Come little rabbit come and pray

La la ill la la la, ill la la la (repeat x 3)

Come little rabbit, come to me,

Come little rabbit come and play

Come little rabbit let us sing

La la ill la la la, ill la la la (repeat x 3)

Tylko jedno ludzi [Only one people]

Tylko jedno swiat [Only one world]

Tylko jedno Bóg [Only one God]

La la ill la la la (repeat x 3)

Come little rabbit, come to me

Come little rabbit let it be,

Come little rabbit let us pray

La la ill la la la (repeat x 3)

Come little rabbit, come to me,

Come little rabbit come and play

Come little rabbit let us sing

La la ill la la la

(Only One God [in Arabic] x 2)

Tylko jedno ludzi (Only one people)

Tylko jedno swiat (Only one world)

Tylko jedno Bóg (Only one God [in Turkish])

La la ill la la (until fade out)

(Come little rabbit come to me)

(Come little rabbit come and play….)

* * *

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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