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DEATH PENALTY

China's execution of Briton triggers fury

Text by: NEWS WIRES
3 min

Britain has called in China's ambassador to voice its fury at the "unacceptable" execution of a mentally ill Briton, as the affair triggered a sharp chill between London and Beijing, as well as protest from the European Union.

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AFP - Britain called in China's ambassador Tuesday to vent its fury at the "unacceptable" execution of a mentally ill Briton, as the affair triggered a sharp chill between London and Beijing, and an EU protest.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was "appalled and disappointed" that China ignored repeated appeals to show mercy to Akmal Shaikh, who was said to have suffered from a mental illness, while his legal team expressed outrage.

"I made clear that the execution of Mr Shaikh was totally unacceptable and that China had failed in its basic human rights responsibilities," said junior foreign minister Ivan Lewis after "difficult" talks with China's envoy.

Brown earlier said: "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."

The 53-year-old father-of-three, suffering from bipolar disorder according to his supporters, was executed in China on Tuesday for drug smuggling despite ministerial lobbying which continued almost up to his death.

Lewis, who had summoned China's ambassador Fu Ying late Monday to make a failed last-minute appeal, and then again on Monday, reiterated London's charge that Shaikh's medical condition was not taken into account.

"China needs to understand it will only ever achieve full respect around the world when it subscribes to basic standards of human rights," he told Sky News television.

But in Beijing officials remained defiant. "China has fully protected the defendant's litigation rights," foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters.

"We express our strong dissatisfaction and opposition to Britain's accusations. We hope the British side will face this case squarely and not create new obstacles for China-Britain relations," she added.

Britain has enormous trade and economic ties with China, and has long underlined the need to engage closely with the emerging global powerhouse despite criticism notably of its human rights record.

But its ties with Beijing have also been more complicated than with many other countries, due to historical issues including the 1997 return of Hong Kong to China.

More recently Britain risked Chinese ire in September by sending junior Foreign Office minister Lewis to Tibet, where he underlined London's support for greater Tibetan autonomy.

Then at this month's Copenhagen climate summit environment 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 dispute over Shaikh's execution will only add to tensions.

Shaikh was arrested in September 2007 in Urumqi in far western China with four kilograms (about nine pounds) of heroin, but campaigners say a criminal gang exploited his mental illness to dupe him into carrying the drugs.

The Briton 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 had been providing him with legal counsel.

The Chinese embassy in London stressed Shaikh was convicted for "serious drug trafficking, adding: "As for his possible mental illness which has been much talked about, there apparently has been no previous medical record."

Shaikh's family, many of whose members gathered with supporters for a candlelit vigil outside the Chinese embassy in London on Monday, said they were "stunned" by the decision.

Britain's anger was backed up by the 27-nation EU, which said it "deeply regrets the fact that China has not heeded the repeated calls by the EU and (Britain) for the death sentence passed against Mr. Shaikh to be commuted."

Reprieve branded his death a "sad indictment" of China's legal system.

"China's refusal to even allow a proper medical evaluation is simply disgusting," said Reprieve's director Clive Stafford Smith.

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