Thursday, 15 October 2009

Reprieve calls on Brown to save death-row man

Lawyers for a mentally ill British man facing execution in China on drug trafficking charges renewed their appeal on Tuesday for his psychiatric condition to be taken into account.

Akmal Shaikh, from London, is believed to suffer from bipolar disorder, which makes him prone to delusions and impairs his judgement

He was arrested on September 12 2007 in Urumqi airport in China after 4kg of heroin was found in a suitcase he was carrying.

Legal action charity Reprieve is campaigning on his behalf, calling on the British government to intervene and appealing directly to Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Mr Shaikh, who had a long history of erratic behaviour, had left Britain to start up an airline in Poland, despite the fact he had no resources to do so.

He also had a plan to publish a song he had written.

Once there, Reprieve says, he unwittingly became involved with drug smugglers who said they would help him if he came to China and carried a suitcase for them.

Suspicious, even in his impaired state, Mr Shaikh examined the suitcase and was satisfied that it did not contain contraband. However, when he arrived in China, officials discovered the heroin.

Reprieve argues that Mr Shaikh was manipulated and is clearly unwell and is concerned that the Chinese authorities have so far declined to approve a psychological examination.

Mr Shaikh's appeal was rejected this week and he now faces imminent execution.

At a press conference in London on Tuesday, Mr Shaikh's brother Akbar said: "We are devastated. I would like to plead with the Chinese authorities to show compassion.

"Akmal is a kind person who got in with a bad crowd in Poland. He has always had delusions and suffered from irrational behaviour."

Dr Peter Shaapveld, a psychologist who has studied the case, said he was convinced of Mr Shaikh's illness.

Reprieve legal director Clive Stafford Smith said: "This is a quite desperate situation.

"We respect the right of China to hold a trial, of course, but Akmal seems to be suffering from a very serious mental condition. We are not here to rubbish China but they need to take this information into account."

He urged the British government to do its utmost and not to be "afraid of doing so."

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said it had made representations to China on the matter and that the Prime MInister had taken a personal interest.

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