Monday, 28 June 2010

China has made a mockery of justice

The case made by China in the execution of Akmal Shaikh undermines its claim to have a rational drugs policy

In the wake of Akmal Shaikh's horrific execution, it is perhaps worth discussing theposition taken by the Chinese in more depth. Cast aside for one moment the unassailable case that we made for his mental illness, and assume that Shaikh was truly guilty, and that the Chinese courts delivered something other than the mockery of justice that we encountered.

How would we then assess their claim – made officially through the Chinese embassy on Christmas Eve – that executing Shaikh was necessary because "150mg of heroin of high degree of purity would be lethal. The amount of heroin he carried was 4,030g, enough to cause 26,800 deaths." Is this a sensible approach to the societal scourge of drug abuse, or is it a faintly ridiculous statement that undermines China's claim to have a rational drugs policy?

The latest available figures suggest that there were 632.3 metric tonnes of heroin produced worldwide in 2004. This is no doubt a low estimate. As of 2009, heroin production is still going up according to the UN, and will not fall until demand is reduced.

But let's accept the figure: 632.3 tonnes of the stuff could, under the Chinese arithmetic, cause 4.2bn deaths each year. This would be roughly 62% of the entire world population. Given that this is more than 240 times the total number of heroin users worldwide, it is clear that the Chinese are being hyperbolic, rather than sensible.

Such exaggeration in a matter of life or death speaks unfavourably of the "cautious approach" that the Chinese claim to be taking on capital punishment, along with their "careful reforms". If a hurried and inadequate investigation by Reprieve has exposed these kinds of flaws in Shaikh's case, what of the other people executed by China without the slightest hint of public scrutiny? China was responsible for at least 1,718 executions in 2008, more than four each day. How many of them had strong claims of innocence as well?

It is hardly surprising that the Chinese wish to keep their judicial system cloaked in secrecy. The Chinese Emperor lives on, it seems, and he still wears no clothes.

Instead of killing a mentally ill man like Shaikh, the Chinese might like to follow the advice of the UN, and focus on prevention. Sadly, if predictably, the Afghan war has dramatically increased heroin supplies. Whatever else one says about the Taliban, they are credited with reducing heroin production by 94%, but by 2006 the New York Times reported that heroin production had reached record levels. So much for the Afghan war being crucial to our government's goal of protecting people on the streets of London.

So the Chinese are not the only irrational ones, but they certainly established a new nadir last night. Until governments start adopting sensible policies, they are hardly likely to solve society's problems.

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