Mentally ill British man faces execution in China for heroin smuggling

A 53 year old father of five from North London may be executed by Chinese authorities any day now as his appeal against drug smuggling charges was rejected. Akmal Shaikh who had run a successful taxi company was arrested on 12 September 2007 in Urumqui north-west China carrying 4kg of heroin in his luggage.

Mr Shaikh who is said by his lawyers to suffer from severe mental illness told Chinese authorities that he had been given the case in Kyrgystan by a man named Okele who had promised to make him a popstar. Akmal’s lawyers argue that his mental illness allowed him to be manipulated by a group of drug smugglers. Akmal has had a lifelong history of bizarre and erratic behavior and five years ago he moved to Poland and broke off contact with his family before eventually becoming homeless. His lawyers then state that he met a man named Carlos who said he would introduce him to people who would make him famous. While he was in Poland he also sent hundreds of disturbed emails to the British embassy in Warsaw.

Despite overwhelming evidence of Akmal Shaikh suffering from mental illness the Chinese authorities have not allowed him to be assessed by a doctor. A preliminary report by Dr Peter Schaapveld, a consultant psychologist, has concluded that Shaikh suffers from bipolar disorder, and was suffering from "delusional psychosis" when he was arrested in possession of the heroin.

Many politicians and celebrities have spoken out in support of Akmal, Stephen Fry who himself suffers from a bipolar disorder has said that “some death sentences are manifestly unfair”. Mark Oaten MP has stated that he “would strongly urge Gordon Brown to personally involve himself in this case as a matter of urgency”.

Akmal’s appeal has been denied by the Chinese High Court and it is now with the Supreme people’s court, if it fails he will face execution by firearms which is usually carried out by firing a single hollow point bullet into the back of the head.

China executes more people annually than any other country although the exact figure is a state secret. Compared to other countries where capital punishment is used in China the period between sentencing and execution is relatively short and mobile execution vans are also used.

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