Disturbing revelations from China about Akmal Shaikh’s execution

January 10, 2010

China’s Supreme Court ignored advice from their own panel of experts in executing Akmal Shaikh; new letter from Akmal to Reprieve reveals major flaws in trial

The emergence of two new documents from China raises disturbing questions about the decision to execute mentally ill Londoner Akmal Shaikh.

The first document, from the People’s Supreme Court, reveals that judges were advised by their own ‘expert panel’ to grant Akmal Shaikh an immediate mental health assessment. Bizarrely, this advice was ignored by the Court.

The panel consisted of five highly distinguished independent Chinese advisors — two legal experts and three mental health experts. It was appointed by the defence to give independent advice in line with Chinese law. The panel’s unanimous recommendation to the Court was that a full mental health evaluation be carried out; however the courts refused to follow this advice, and failed to acknowledge that they had even received it.

The use of expert panels is common, and allows highly regarded scholars to give independent advice to the Court. Although judges are not obliged to follow their recommendations, in similar past cases they have acted on the panel’s advice to overturn death sentences.

In a separate development, Reprieve has received a letter from Akmal Shaikh, sent before his death. The full text is copied below and contains disturbing details of his lonely and confused progress through the Chinese justice system. He also writes about his hopes for his song ‘Come Little Rabbit’.

Reprieve’s Director Clive Stafford Smith said:

“Akmal Shaikh’s death has exposed serious flaws in the Chinese legal system, which cannot be ignored. How many vulnerable people like Akmal are wrongfully killed by China every day?

“The Chinese Supreme Court refuses to reveal reasoning for their decision to execute Akmal, or for their refusal to grant him a mental health evaluation. It is a bizarre twist that the Court showed so little respect for their own distinguished experts who advised them in Akmal’s case.

“We support the Shaikh family’s request for answers about Akmal’s treatment in prison, in the courts and at the time of his death. The continued stonewalling by the Chinese authorities is inhumane and disrespectful to the family of Akmal Shaikh.”

The text of the two new documents is pasted below; for further information, please contact Katherine O’Shea (katherine.oshea@reprieve.org.uk or 07931592674).

RECOMMENDATIONS IN THE CASE OF AKMAL SHAIKHConclusion submitted by expert panel to People’s Supreme Court

The following is official advice from an expert panel made of Chinese legal and mental health experts to the People’s Supreme Court:

“Having discussed this issue, the expert panel concluded that it was necessary for the judicial mental health assessment proceedings to begin. Their specific reasons for this conclusion were as follows:

1. The judicial assessment is a means, within the legal proceedings, of using the scientific expertise or knowledge of professionals to carry out a particular determination or assessment. The question of whether or not Akmal suffers from mental illness requires the judgement of professionals in the field. A judge is not a mental health professional. A judge can make decisions on legal issues, but cannot make informed decisions in specialised fields. Furthermore, there are both mild and severe forms of mental illness, some of which are only displayed intermittently. A judge who can only go by surface appearances has no way of deciding whether a person’s mental state is healthy or not. Only a mental health professional can make an accurate diagnosis.

2. The application by the accused and his defence lawyers for a mental health assessment forms an important part of the right to a defence. While currently the decision to carry out a mental health assessment does not lie in the hands of the defence team, the accused still has the right to a defence at the review stage of death penalty cases. And, according to the law, defence lawyers have the right to apply for an assessment. From the perspective of gaining the public trust in the administration of capital punishment, we should be able to ‘never refuse a request’ and, therefore, when an assessment is requested by the accused or his lawyers the court should agree to begin the assessment process. Death penalty cases deal with a person’s life and, as such, are of a severe and irrevocable nature. Therefore, great care should be taken in their administration.

3. China still retains capital punishment, but has made a commitment to the policy of ‘fewer executions, restrained use of capital punishment and the elimination of wrongful executions’. The recent procedural reform related to the death penalty also shows the trend of strengthening the procedural guarantees related to capital punishment. The referral of all death penalty cases to the Supreme People’s Court is a model example of this trend. Therefore, when the defence in a death penalty case makes a plea on mental health grounds, the court should, in principle, be willing to grant an assessment.

4. Consensus has been reached by scholars and frontline departments that evidence in death penalty cases should be more reliable than that in ordinary criminal cases. Whether it is China’s insistence on an “iron case” in administering capital punishment, or the Western concept of proving guilt “beyond reasonable doubt”, both demand that there can be no unresolved doubts in death penalty cases. Without experts’ assessment, the defending lawyer’s argument on Mr Shaikh’s mental health would remain an unresolved doubt. In conclusion, a psychiatric assessment of the accused is of critical importance in ensuring compliance with strict procedures relating to the death penalty and avoiding misjudged cases.”

LETTER FROM AKMAL SHAIKH TO REPRIEVEReceived January 8th 2010

“In the first trial I had a hasty meeting with an “appointed lawyer” after being denied a lawyer at the beginning during the police questioning. The meeting with the lawyer came a few days before my court appearance in December 3 2007. I gave him written notes.

The judge started the “trial” without my lawyer present who arrived late. I was not given full translation of the proceeding. Every now an then a translator gave brief summary translations. I was not allowed a pen or paper to make notes or sit next to the lawyer to confer. I was forced to appear with my head shaven and looking scruffy and handcuffed. I was not allowed to cross examine. I think my lawyer asked 2 or 3 questions in a farce that lasted about an hour.

Then on October 30 2008 I was given a back dated judgement in the absence of my lawyer. The date on the judgement signed and sealed was December 4th 2007.

Appeal hearing May 26, 2009: At the beginning of the trial I had also objected to the translator, she had come to see me with the prosecutor in January. I knew she could not speak English well and had difficulty in translating English to Chinese as she kept asking me for substitute words.

(Also when the prosecutor came to see me in January 2009 I told them that my lawyer should be present and they refused. At the end I went back to my cell and then about 30 minutes or more later they called me back to sign without any translators present. They insisted in a room with 3 other policemen present that I should sign.)

I repeatedly objected as the translator was having trouble translating that I could not understand her but the judge refused another translator.

When I was finally allowed to speak and read the statement I had prepared I was constantly interrupted by both the judges. First of all they did not want me to read it and they did not want to hear what I had to say. And the translator also kept interrupting saying that she could not understand to translate.

At the end of the trial the court asked me for my written speech and kept it.

The copy of my first judgement has been confiscated by the policeman at the Lucahn Detention Centre.

There is no way ever that I would carry an illegal substance for any amount of money.

On December 21st 2009 (****same day the SPC denied the appeal, upholding the death sentence and scheduling the execution for 29 December*** – Reprieve) the judge from the first trial came in the evening and wanted to ask me several questions. He kept saying he was there to answer some questions for the British Embassy. I think his visit and questions are totally inappropriate. I refused to answer all his questions and refused to sign a paper in Chinese which he wanted me to sign. Akmal does not state what questions he was asked.

I had produced a demo single “come little rabbit” with the help of a singer and after playing it to various people and DJs I came to the conclusion under advice that it needed something dramatic – couple of the ideas were to have some foreign children saying “where’s the rabbit”. When China was mentioned to me, I though of the forth coming Olympics in China and I thought if I could add some ancient Chinese drums and other musical instruments that maybe I could hit it off on the back of the Olympics with a Chinese flavour.

The song “come little rabbit” was a political song based on the many people who go disappearing following a “dream” and for world peace not a club song. I had intended its release in Poland hence the Polish words I have used in the song “Tylko jendo ludgi, Tylko jendo suiat, Tylko jendo boga”.

It was important for me to be back in Poland on September 19 for the Polish nurses strike action. The Polish nurses and the Polish crowd I had attracted – that would have been the occasion to release my song where I had attracted a large following. I had already given a copy of my demo CD to EMI and my agent in Warsaw.”

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 Guantanamo 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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