Akmal Shaikh’s family go on a mercy mission to China; mentally ill British national set to die in Urumqi at 10am on December 29

December 27, 2009

Image of Akmal Shaikh

Two members of Akmal Shaikh’s family – his first cousins, Soohail Shaikh and Nasir Shaikh, both of London – leave this afternoon for Beijing and Urumqi on a mercy mission to plead for Akmal’s life.

Soohail and Nasir, brothers, will fly overnight to Beijing, where they will transfer onto another flight to Urumqi. Once there, they will deliver legal petitions seeking review of the case to the local court that originally imposed the death sentence, as well as the Supreme People’s Court.

They will also deliver pleas for mercy to President Hu Jintao and the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (which is responsible for considering petitions for pardon or clemency). The two brothers are also hoping to visit Akmal on the evening of the 27th and on the 28th, the eve of Akmal’s scheduled execution — the first time he will have had direct contact with a family member for two years.

“We plead for his life,” Soohail Shaikh states in the petition for clemency, “asking that a full mental health evaluation be conducted to assess the impact of his mental illness, and that recognition be made that he is not as culpable as those who might, under Chinese law, be eligible for the death penalty.”

“We plead for mercy and clemency,” said Akbar Shaikh, Akmal’s brother, in a letter from the family to the Chinese President. “We are not asking for special treatment for Akmal because he is British, but simply as a family who are devastated at the possibility of losing our son, our brother, our father, our cousin.” “The Chinese Embassy authorities were kind and opened on Boxing Day to facilitate a visa for this visit, recognizing the devastating blow that this execution date has inflicted on the entire family,” said Reprieve’s director Clive Stafford Smith.

“We very much hope that this compassionate approach continues to the point of granting Akmal a reprieve. I can say as one whose father suffered from bipolar disorder that it cannot be right to put a human being to death who suffers from such a grave mental illness.” Backstory on Akmal Shaikh:

Mr Shaikh is a British national from Kentish Town, London, and is married with three children. He was arrested on 12 September 2007 in Urumqi, north-west China, charged with smuggling drugs. Reprieve discovered vital information that Mr Shaikh suffers from bi-polar disorder (formerly referred to as manic depression). This has been supported by a medical report from Dr Peter Schaapveld, a forensic psychologist, who believes it very likely that Mr Shaikh’s strange behaviour was “influenced or caused by” his mental illness. Mr Shaikh suffered the delusion that he was going to record a hit single in China that would usher in world peace. In additional to uncovering a long history of strange behaviour, Reprieve located a recording of the bizarre song (which is about rabbits in a mixture of English, Polish and Arabic — the lyrics are below; the song may be heard on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFv0eS5p9hs)

The mental health evidence strongly supported the statement Mr Shaikh made when he was arrested, when he told the officials that he did not know about the drugs, and that the suitcase did not belong to him. The drug gang had apparently identified someone who was easily manipulated. They promised to help him record his song, but when they all arrived at the airport, the leader of the gang told Mr Shaikh that there was only one seat left on the plane – would he mind taking along a suitcase for them, since they had brought it all the way from the hotel? Mr Shaikh aided the Chinese authorities with their inquiries and told them as much as he could about the incident. Despite this, the Court sentenced him to death in November 2008. Mr Shaikh’s final appeal was turned down today, Monday 21st December. His execution date was set at once, for 10am on the 29th. Chinese experts have joined Dr Schaapveld in calling for a proper mental health evaluation. Akmal’s last chance appears to be clemency; China has formally signed the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 6, section 4 of which provides: “Anyone sentenced to death penalty shall have the right to seek pardon or commutation of the sentence. Amnesty, pardon or commutation of the sentence of death may be granted in all cases”.

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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