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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

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

Guru Careers: Creative Director / Head of Creative

£65K - £75K (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Creative Director...

Recruitment Genius: IT Technical Support Engineer

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful IT reseller bas...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Engineer / Technical Sales Representative - OTE £35k

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the Country's leading di...

Recruitment Genius: Logistics Coordinator - Part-Time

£10000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence