Relatives Visit Briton on Death Row in China

By: Ng Han Guan AP Email
By: Ng Han Guan AP Email

URUMQI, China (AP) - Relatives made a last-minute plea for mercy Monday for a Briton scheduled to be executed in China for drug smuggling after visiting the man whom they say may be mentally ill.

Akmal Shaikh, a 53-year-old father of three, was not aware that his execution had been scheduled for Tuesday, until his cousins told him.

He would be the first citizen of a European country to be put to death in China in half a century.

China has already rejected a plea from British Prime Minister Gordon Brown for Shaikh to be spared.

"The Prime Minister has intervened personally on a number of occasions: He has raised the case with Premier Wen, most recently at the Copenhagen summit; and has written several times to President Hu," said an e-mail from Brown's office on Monday.

Eleventh-hour appeals are almost never granted in China, which executes more people each year than all other countries combined.
"We beg the Chinese authorities for mercy and clemency to help reunite this heartbroken family," his cousin, Soohail Shaikh, said in a statement read to reporters in the far western city of Urumqi, where his cousin is being held.

Soohail Shaikh said he and his brother Nasir Shaikh visited Akmal Shaikh on Monday morning - his first direct family contact in the two years since he was arrested.

Soohail Shaikh said his cousin had not previously been told of his impending execution.

"He was obviously very upset on hearing from us of the sentence that was passed," Soohail Shaikh said. "We strongly feel that he's not rational and he needs medication."

It was not immediately clear why Shaikh had not been aware until Monday he was facing execution.

Shaikh, who is of Pakistani descent, was sentenced in a half-hour trial in October 2008 for taking a suitcase containing almost nine pounds (four kilograms) of heroin into Urumqi in 2007. He was arrested traveling on a flight from Tajikistan.

Shaikh's family says the small business owner from London was lured to China by two men who promised to help him launch a career in pop music.

A preliminary psychological report commissioned by Reprieve said Shaikh's actions "were most likely influenced by some form of delusional psychosis."

Britain has accused Chinese officials of not taking Shaikh's mental health concerns into account as required by law.

China says his case was handled according to law.

"Drug smuggling is a grave crime. The rights of the defendant have been fully guaranteed," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told a news conference last week.

Soohail Shaikh said his cousin has no prior criminal record. On his arrival in Beijing from Urumqi on Monday night, he said his cousin looked a bit weaker than when they last saw him two years ago.

"We feel a pardon would allow Akmal to get the medical assistance he needs as well as the healing love from his family," Soohail Shaikh said.

Two British diplomats were accompanying the brothers but said they were not authorized to speak to journalists.

Reprieve said Shaikh's legal options have been exhausted since the Supreme People's Court of China has rejected his appeal, and said his last chance appeared to be clemency. It has appealed to Chinese President Hu Jintao to grant Shaikh a pardon.

Calls to Urumqi's intermediate court, the Xinjiang government spokesman's office, and the Supreme Court in Beijing rang unanswered Monday.

In London, some of Shaikh's family members joined a vigil outside the Chinese Embassy. A cousin, Latif Shaikh, said Akmal Shaikh's mother, who is in her 80s, knows he's in prison but doesn't know he faces execution. He said he feared the shock could kill her.

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