Britain to press China on execution

December 22, 2009 12:00 am

, LONDON, Dec 22 – Britain will step up pressure on China in coming days to show clemency for a Briton set to be executed for drug smuggling, with ties already strained over a spat on the climate conference.

Akmal Shaikh, 53, whose family and supporters say he probably has bipolar disorder, faces the death penalty next week after losing his final appeal on Monday in China\\\’s Supreme Court, his lawyers said.

If carried out, Shaikh would become the first EU national to be executed in China in 50 years, according to the lawyers, the charity Reprieve.

"We can confirm that Chinese authorities have informed us that Akmal Shaikh is due to be executed on 29 December," a Foreign Office spokesman said Monday.

"We are alarmed and deeply concerned at this news."

Shaikh, from London, was arrested in 2007 at Urumqi in China\\\’s western Xinjiang region with four kilogrammes (8.8 pounds) of heroin, after campaigners say he was duped by a criminal gang into carrying a suitcase for them.

The Foreign Office said Chinese officials had not taken Shaikh\\\’s mental health into account despite repeated requests by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, government ministers and the European Union.

Brown pressed the case to Chinese premier Wen Jiabao in a telephone call earlier this month, officials have said.

"We will be using the next few days to renew and intensify our appeal to the Chinese authorities for clemency. The prime minister and other ministers have been, and remain, closely engaged," a Foreign Office spokesman said.

"We deeply regret that mental health concerns had no bearing on the final judgment despite requests by Mr Shaikh\\\’s defence lawyer and repeated calls by the prime minister, ministers, members of the opposition, as well as the European Union."

The case comes amid strains between London and Beijing over the UN climate conference, after Brown accused a handful of countries of holding the summit to ransom as bitter recriminations swirled over the outcome.

While Brown refrained from naming countries, his climate change minister Ed Miliband said China had led a group of countries that "hijacked" the negotiations which had at times presented "a farcical picture to the public".

The agreement finally put together in Copenhagen set no target for greenhouse-gas emissions cuts and is not legally binding — omissions Miliband blamed on Beijing.

China\\\’s foreign ministry slammed the comments on Monday made "by an individual British politician."

"Such an attack was made in order to shirk the obligations of developed countries to their developing counterparts and foment discord among developing countries," foreign ministry spokesman Jiang Yu said.

"But the attempt was doomed to fail," she told China\\\’s state news agency Xinhua.

Reprieve said it hoped Shaikh did not become a victim of the spat.

"We very much hope that Akmal Shaikh does not become a victim of the regrettably cold political climate that has resulted (from Copenhagen)," said director Clive Stafford Smith.

Reprieve said it has medical evidence that Shaikh, who is married with three children, suffered from a delusion that he was going to China to record a hit single that would usher in world peace.

Once there he was duped by a criminal gang into unwittingly carrying drugs for them, Reprieve alleged.

According to the London-based rights group Amnesty International, China executes more people every year than the rest of the world combined, but the actual numbers put to death remain a state secret.


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