Chinese hit back in row over Briton's execution

The execution of British citizen Akmal Shaikh by China sparked a diplomatic war of words between London and Beijing today.

Convicted drug smuggler Shaikh, who is believed to have suffered from bipolar disorder, was killed by lethal injection despite pleas for his mental health to be considered.



Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who had telephoned Chinese premier Wen Jiabao to urge him to halt the execution, said he was "appalled and disappointed" at the failure to grant clemency.



Chinese officials in both capitals hit back with an insistence that Shaikh had "no previous medical record" of mental illness and a warning not to meddle in China's judicial affairs.



The row culminated tonight in a "difficult" showdown between Foreign Office minister Ivan Lewis and China's Ambassador Fu Ying after she was summoned to explain her country's action.



Emerging from the meeting, Mr Lewis said he "made clear that the execution of Mr Shaikh was totally unacceptable and that China had failed in its basic human rights responsibilities".



Shaikh, 53, from Kentish Town, north London, who was arrested in Urumqi, north west China, in September 2007, was convicted of smuggling 4kg (8.8lb) of heroin into the country.



But it is widely believed by his family and supporters that he was seriously mentally ill and was duped into carrying the drugs unknowingly by a gang.



Campaigners said the courts in China failed to commission an assessment of his medical condition in spite of his obvious mental illness, believed to be bipolar disorder.



Some 27 separate representations were made at ministerial level on Shaikh's behalf to the Chinese authorities as intense efforts were made to spare his life.



Shaikh's cousins, Soohail and Nasir Shaikh, travelled to China to visit their cousin in prison but their last-minute plea for clemency also failed.



The family said they were "deeply saddened, stunned and disappointed" by the execution, which mental health campaigners criticised as "medieval rough justice gone badly wrong".



Robert Westhead, a spokesman for MDF, the Bipolar Organisation, said: "The way the Chinese authorities have stubbornly failed to take account of this poor man's severe mental illness shows that China is still stuck in the dark ages."



In a statement issued through the human rights group Reprieve, the two Shaikh brothers attacked as "ludicrous" suggestions that Akmal should have provided evidence of his own condition.



"That this was regarded as sufficient grounds for refusal by the judicial authorities to order any mental health assessment is shocking to us.



"Despite our own and other pleas, the Chinese authorities have maintained their refusal to investigate Akmal's mental health."



Mr Brown said he condemned the execution "in the strongest terms and (I) am appalled and disappointed that our persistent requests for clemency have not been granted.



"I am particularly concerned that no mental health assessment was undertaken," he said, expressing his condolences to the family.



Foreign Secretary David Miliband, Conservative leader David Cameron and Liberal Democrat spokesman Ed Davey also joined the criticism, with Mr Miliband accusing the Chinese courts of failing to provide adequate professional interpretation during the trial.



Their words caused irritation in Beijing, where Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu expressed "strong dissatisfaction and opposition to the British Government's unreasonable criticism" of the case.



"No-one has the right to comment on China's judicial sovereignty," she told a press briefing.



"It is the common wish of people around the world to strike against the crime of drug trafficking. We urge the British to correct their mistake in order to avoid harming China-UK relations."



Ambassador Fu Ying was summoned to the Foreign Office after the Chinese Embassy in London issued a statement insisting Shaikh's rights and interests had been "properly respected".



"As for his possible mental illness which has been much talked about, there apparently has been no previous medical record," it went on.



The quantity of heroin brought into China was "enough to cause 26,800 deaths, threatening numerous families", it said, concluding: "The legal structures of China and UK may be different, but it should not stand in the way of enhancing our bilateral relations on the basis of mutual respect."



After the emergency talks, Mr Lewis, who earlier said the case made him "sick to the stomach", said: "I had a difficult conversation with the Chinese Ambassador today.



"I made clear that the execution of Mr Shaikh was totally unacceptable and that China had failed in its basic human rights responsibilities in this case, in particular that China's court had not considered the representations made about Mr Shaikh's mental condition.



"It is an important element of a mature bilateral relationship that we are able to speak frankly about issues on which we disagree and that those concerns are heard."



Campaigners and family members held a candlelit vigil outside the Chinese embassy in London for the former cab firm manager.



It is believed Shaikh, who was homeless in Poland, was tricked into carrying drugs by a gang in the country who told him he could become a pop star in China.



The execution makes Shaikh the first European to be executed in China for more than 50 years, according to campaigners.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
news
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
people
Sport
SPORT
News
people
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Biggins as Mrs Smee in Peter Pan
theatreHow do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick