China has executed British national Akmal Shaikh, arrested on Tuesday for smuggling heroin, despite pleas for clemency by his family, who said he was mentally unstable. Shaikh is the first European to be executed by China since 1951.
REUTERS - British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was appalled at China's execution of a British citizen caught smuggling heroin on Tuesday, prompting China to defend its judicial integrity and denounce interference.
Relatives of Akmal Shaikh, 53, and the British government had appealed for clemency, arguing the former businessman suffered from bipolar disorder, or manic depression.
The Chinese Supreme Court rejected the appeal, saying there was insufficient evidence of mental illness, and the Chinese Foreign Ministry said Shaikh had been given all due legal rights.
Brown condemned the execution, carried out in the far-west region of Xinjiang, in strong words that may raise diplomatic temperatures over the case.
"I condemn the execution of Akmal Shaikh in the strongest terms, and am appalled and disappointed that our persistent requests for clemency have not been granted," he said in a statement issued by the British Foreign Office.
"I am particularly concerned that no mental health assessment was undertaken."
China was just as determined in its defence of the execution.
"Nobody has the right to speak ill of China's judicial sovereignty," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said. "We express our strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition over the groundless British accusations. We urge the British side to mend its errors and avoid damaging China-British relations."
Shaikh would be the first European citizen to be executed in China since 1951, Western rights groups say. China executes more people than any other country, with about 1,718 executions in 2008 far surpassing Iran at 346 and the United States at 111.
Shaikh was still "hopeful" when relatives met him in Urumqi this weekend, his cousin Soohail Shaikh told reporters at Beijing airport late on Monday night.
The case could harden public opinion in Britain against China. It could also rile Chinese resentful over what Beijing often calls "interference" in China's internal affairs and mindful of humiliating defeats by Britain during the Opium Wars in the 1800s which led to the granting of Hong Kong island to Britain.
"We hope that the British side can view this matter rationally, and not create new obstacles in bilateral relations... This is an isolated criminal case unrelated to other matters," Jiang said.
Britain is China's third-largest trade partner in Europe, with total trade of $45 billion in 2008. The two countries recently traded accusations over the troubled Copenhagen climate change negotiations.
Heroin use is a major problem in Xinjiang, which borders Central Asia. The region was convulsed by ethnic violence and protests in July, with further protests in September after widespread panic over alleged syringe attacks.
All executions in Urumqi have used lethal injections in recent years, said a detention centre official surnamed Jia. Shaikh's defenders, including British rights group Reprieve which lobbies against the death penalty, say he was tricked into smuggling the heroin by a gang who promised to make him a pop star.
Arrested in 2007, a Chinese court rejected his final appeal on Dec. 21. Reprieve posted on the Internet a recording Shaikh made of a song, "Come Little Rabbit", which it described as "dreadful" but which Shaikh believed would be an international hit and help bring about world peace.
"This is not about how much we hate the drug trade. Britain as well as China are completely committed to take it on," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said in a statement emailed to reporters. "The issue is whether Mr Shaikh has become an additional victim of it."
Date created : 2009-12-29