AKMAL SHAIKH EXECUTED this morning at 2.30am GMT; Reprieve appalled at the failure to allow the most basic due process in the face of overwhelming and unrebutted evidence of his mental illness

December 29, 2009

Image of Akmal Shaikh

Akmal Shaikh’s execution was carried out this morning at 2.30am GMT. Reprieve is appalled that no mercy was shown to a man who was clearly mentally ill.

As sometimes happens when the hours are ticking down to execution, the media coverage provoked impartial witnesses – in this case, six — to come forward at the last minute, each concerned that an injustice was about to take place. Reprieve took statements from each person, and passed them onto the Chinese authorities. This all fell on deaf ears as apparently the bureaucracy was too unwieldy or uncaring to change terrible plans.

Luis Belmonte Diaz, a Spanish photographer based in Warsaw, provided pictures of Akmal down and out in Poland. Paul Newberry, a British national who has lived 15 years in Poland, took part in Akmal’s delusional “Come Little Rabbit” recording and detailed his mental illness. A third witness, Gareth Saunders, is a British teacher and musician who sang backup on the song in an effort to humour a gentle but delusional man. Jacek Gniadek, a Roman Catholic Priest, was Project Manager at the Migrant Centre Fu Shenfu in Warsaw, that Akmal used to frequent when he was homeless and in a steep psychological decline. Sister Alicja Prejzner is a nun who also worked there. Finally, Akmal’s GP Dr Martin Harris came forward to call for a full evaluation of his former patient.

Members of the Shaikh family joined a respectful vigil outside the Chinese Embassy as the hours counted down towards execution. They continued to beg the Chinese authorities to show mercy by all avenues possible. This, too, elicited no compassion.

The last minute failure to allow a proper medical evaluation followed months of intransigence by the Chinese authorities. Reprieve first asked for an evaluation by a local expert in April 2009, which was initially granted but then refused. Reprieve paid for Dr Peter Schaapveld to fly more than 7000 miles to Urumqi to evaluate Akmal in May 2009. The Chinese had agreed to him meeting with Akmal but then, after his arrival, reneged. Repeated requests since that time went ignored. Chinese authorities refused Dr Schaapveld an entry visa on Christmas Day, when he again offered to come to conduct a full and free evaluation. China could have allowed a full medical evaluation months ago and still concluded the case this year.

Akmal Shaikh became the first European executed in China for 58 years. The last person 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.

Reprieve’s director Clive Stafford Smith said:

“Sad to say, I have watched six people die in execution chambers, and it is as ghastly as it is pointless. Is the world somehow a better place today because China refused to show compassion for an obviously ill man? Of course not. China’s refusal to even allow a proper medical evaluation is simply disgusting.”

Sally Rowen, legal director of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said:

“The death of Akmal Shaikh is a sad indictment of today’s world, and particularly of China’s legal system. Akmal was a gentle man who suffered from a tormenting illness; he slipped through the cracks of society and was betrayed and deliberately killed by one of the most powerful nations on earth. We at Reprieve are sickened by what we have seen during our work on this case.”

Akmal’s family has requested that Reprieve issue a brief statement:

“The family express their grief at the Chinese decision to refuse mercy; thank all those who tried hard to bring about a different result – including Reprieve, the FCO, those who attended the vigil, and the organisers of the Facebook group who garnered more than 5000 members in a few short days; and ask the media and public to respect their privacy as they come to terms with what has happened to someone they loved.”

For more information the primary contact at Reprieve is Katherine O’Shea (katherine.oshea@reprieve.org.uk); or contact Sally Rowen (sally.rowen@reprieve.org.uk 020 7427 1099/ 07773 348833), Clive Stafford Smith (clivestaffordsmith@mac.com).

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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