Clock ticks for London man

December 28, 2009 12:00 am

, BEIJING, Dec 28 – Relatives of a London man who is to be executed in China this week for drug trafficking visited him on death row on Monday after making a last-ditch appeal for clemency, his lawyers said.

Akmal Shaikh, a 53-year-old father-of-three who supporters say suffers from bipolar disorder, faces execution on Tuesday after losing his final appeal in China\’s Supreme Court, Downing Street and his legal team say.

If the death penalty is carried out, Shaikh would become the first national from a European Union country to be executed in China in 50 years, according to the London-based charity Reprieve, which is proving him with legal counsel.

Shaikh\’s two cousins flew to Urumqi, the capital of China\’s far western Xinjiang region, to visit him and petition both the government and the courts for mercy, according to Reprieve.

British consular officials have also gone to Urumqi to "assist the Shaikh family", embassy spokesman David Shaw told AFP.

"They spent an hour and a half with him this morning, and were able to give him the messages from the family," Sally Rowen, legal director of Reprieve\’s death penalty team, told AFP.

She said it was the first time he had had direct contact with a family member for two years.

Reprieve director Clive Stafford Smith said in a statement he had been in constant contact with Akmal\’s family, adding: "They are simply praying for a reprieve, fearing for the health of his mother, who is very frail."

The regional government was not immediately available for comment on the case.

Shaikh, who comes from Kentish Town in north London, was arrested in September 2007 in Urumqi with four kilogrammes (8.8 pounds) of heroin. Campaigners say he was duped into carrying the drugs for a criminal gang. He was sentenced to death last year.

Britain opposes the death penalty and Prime Minister Gordon Brown has repeatedly raised Shaikh\’s case with China\’s leaders and appealed for clemency.

Shaikh\’s brother Akbar has also written to Fu Ying, Beijing\’s ambassador to London, appealing for the Chinese authorities to show mercy. A protest was planned outside the Chinese embassy in London later on Monday.

But China – which has not publicly confirmed the execution is to take place – said last week that Shaikh\’s case has been handled properly.

"China\’s judicial authorities independently handled this case in accordance with the law. Drug smuggling is a grave crime in international practice," foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters.

"During the entire process, the litigation rights and the relevant rights and interests of the defendant were fully respected and guaranteed. China has offered prompt consular information to the UK and arranged consular visits."

Reprieve said the Shaikh cousins were to deliver a plea of mercy to Chinese President Hu Jintao and the National People\’s Congress, which receives petitions for pardon or clemency.

"We plead for his life," cousin Soohail Shaikh said in the Reprieve statement.

The family asked 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."

The charity says it has medical evidence that Shaikh 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, saying his strange behaviour was "influenced or caused by" his mental illness.

According to 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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