Mental Health Lawyers Association urgent appeal to the Chinese authorities to reconsider execution of Akmal Shaikh

December 28, 2009

The Mental Health Lawyers Association has made an urgent appeal to the Chinese authorities to reassess the Supreme Court’s decision to execute Akmal Shaikh without allowing him a full mental health assessment.

Akmal Shaikh’s execution is set for 10.30am on Tuesday morning, Urumqi time (2.30am GMT). At no point during the legal process was Akmal’s mental health taken into account by the courts, despite the best efforts of his lawyers.

In an urgent letter sent today to the Chinese Ambassador Madam Fu Ying, Richard Charlton, Chair of the Mental Health Lawyers Association, wrote of how mental illness causes great difficulties within all court systems, and recognises that the UK system frequently fails the mentally ill:

“Mental illness provides a unique challenge to the law. People with mental disorders frequently do not act in their own interests, and their denial of any mental disorder may not reflect an objective medical assessment. Furthermore, defendants may successfully conceal symptoms out of fear or shame, or a failure to recognise their own illness….

“This scenario has led to numerous legal mistakes being made in good faith by the Courts in England and Wales, leading to decisions being reversed on appeal as medical evidence has emerged later in the legal process. We understand that this is a problem which affects all countries with developed legal jurisdictions. It is no criticism of a legal system that it may fail to recognise mental illness, indeed we have seen this many times in England and Wales.”

Two members of Akmal Shaikh’s family – his first cousins, Soohail Shaikh and Nasir Shaikh, both from London – joined by British Embassy officials, arrived in Urumqi yesterday to try to help stave off Akmal execution. They will deliver a petition to the court in Urumqi, and to the President, the National People’s Congress, and Supreme People’s Court, seeking mercy.

“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.”

Sally Rowen, Legal Director of Reprieve’s death penalty team said:

“Akmal Shaikh’s family have described how Akmal’s mental illness destroyed his life and tore their family apart. It is a tragedy that Akmal may now have to pay the ultimate price for his illness.

“All court systems struggle with the issue of mental illness, and here in the UK we frequently get it wrong. We beg the Chinese authorities not to execute Akmal before considering his personal history and the mental health evidence that has so far not been considered by the courts.”

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 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 on 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 ( 020 7427 1099/ 07773 348833); or Clive Stafford Smith (

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Lyrics of Akmal’s Song:


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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