Desperate plea for Briton on death row

Campaigners and family members were tonight pleading for the life of a Briton who is due to be executed in China after being convicted of smuggling heroin.

A candlelit vigil was being held outside the Chinese embassy in central London calling for a last-minute reprieve for 53-year-old Akmal Shaikh from Kentish Town, north London, on the grounds that he is seriously mentally ill.



Mr Shaikh, who was convicted of smuggling 4kg of heroin after being arrested in Urumqi, north west China in September 2007, is due to be executed at 10.30am tomorrow - 2.30am GMT - after losing a final appeal last week.



But campaigners and witnesses who have contacted the human rights group Reprieve have said he is mentally ill and had been suffering from delusions.



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



Seema Khan, 54, Mr Shaikh's cousin, from Chigwell, Essex, who joined the vigil today said: "We hope and pray that the Chinese government will reprieve him even at the last minute.



"I grew up with Akmal and I know that he would never knowingly have become involved in something of this nature.



"He is an upright citizen who has never been in trouble with the law before."



Mr Shaikh's cousin, Latif Shaikh, 41, a lift engineer from Chigwell who is Mrs Khan's brother, said the family were "devastated" at the news that he was to be executed.



He said Mr Shaikh's mother, who is in her 80s, and lives in north London, knew he was in prison but was unaware that he faced the death penalty.



He said the shock could kill her.



"The whole family is absolutely devastated, his own mother does not know yet.



"I hope and pray that it will not come to this. This execution will take two lives without a doubt."



Reprieve said Mr Shaikh had been obsessed by recording a "bizarre" song which he believed would usher in world peace.



Two British men, Paul Newberry and Gareth Saunders, who were persuaded to help Mr Shaikh record his song in Poland, contacted the organisation following publicity about the case, and said it was clear he was mentally ill.



They said they tried to convince Mr Shaikh that the song Come Little Rabbit, was "hopeless".



Mr Newberry, a British national who lives in Poland, told Reprieve Mr Shaikh had shown them lyrics to the song written on a paper napkin and tried to convince them it would be a hit.



"For a few weeks he pestered us until finally we agreed to record it with him," he said.



"I have no idea who paid for the recording studio but I think he used his charm and persistence to persuade the owner to let him record the song."



Mr Shaikh's cousins Soohail and Nasir Shaikh, who were allowed to see him for a meeting lasting an hour-and-a-half, have delivered a petition asking for clemency to the trial judge in Urumqi.



They were due to deliver petitions for clemency to the Chinese President, Supreme People's Court, and National People's Congress in Beijing.



Mr Shaikh was informed this morning that he would be executed tomorrow as the Chinese authorities are said to have kept his fate from him up until then on "humanitarian grounds".



Soohail said: "He was obviously very upset on hearing from us of the sentence that was passed.



"We strongly feel that he's not rational and he needs medication.



"We feel a pardon would allow Akmal to get the medical assistance he needs as well as the healing love from his family."



Reprieve director Clive Stafford Smith said: "While it must be torture for Akmal going through this, the last-minute nature of this evidence is an example of why there must always be last-minute clemency."



Mr Shaikh is believed to be suffering from bipolar disorder and his case has attracted support from mental health campaigners as well as those opposed to the death penalty.



Prime Minister Gordon Brown is among those who have urged the Chinese government to grant Mr Shaikh a reprieve from the death sentence.



Foreign Office minister Ivan Lewis also spoke by telephone to his Chinese counterpart today to make clear Britain's "opposition" to Mr Shaikh's death sentence, the government said.



A Downing Street spokesman said: "The British Government has been doing and will continue to do everything within its power to secure a fair trial and clemency on the death penalty for Akmal Shaikh.



"The Prime Minister has intervened personally on a number of occasions: he has raised the case with Premier Wen, most recently at the Copenhagen summit; and has written several times to President Hu.



"At every level - including at ministerial level today, in a phone call from FCO minister Ivan Lewis to his Chinese counterpart - the Government has raised its concerns, made clear our opposition to the death penalty, and requested a full mental health assessment. We will remain engaged in the coming hours."



A Facebook group called Stop the Execution of Akmal Shaikh has so far attracted more than 2,802 members with members joining the vigil outside the Chinese embassy.



Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Supporting role: at the Supreme Court, Rhodes was accompanied by a famous friend, the actor Benedict Cumberbatch
booksPianist James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to stop the injunction of his memoirs
Sport
Sam Allardyce
sport
Sport
Steven Gerrard scores for Liverpool
sport
Arts and Entertainment
Bob Dylan
art
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
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: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?