Letters: China's death penalty

China has executed a pathetic and mentally ill man
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The Independent Online

Both Chinese and international law clearly indicate that a person who commits a crime while suffering from significant mental illness should not be subjected to the death penalty. With my little knowledge of mental health, and from facts in the media, it is pretty clear that Akmal Shaikh was mentally ill.

The illegal drugs were apparently in a suitcase given to him by others to take to China; he was told they were going to make him a pop star there. If this was not delusional, I wonder what else one needs to reveal his mental health, which was never professionally evaluated. On top of this, I understand Shaikh insisted on presenting his defence himself on appeal, his rambling and incoherent statement causing the judges to laugh at him. His original trial had lasted only 30 minutes.

Apparently, China's government felt national honour depended on executing this pathetic and deluded man.The general international view of China's justice system at present is not that great, and most people see it as a corrupt and "unjust" system which is shrouded in secrecy. The execution of Akmal Shaikh has strengthened that view.

Dr Kailash Chand

Chair, NHS Tameside and Glossop, Denton, Manchester

Yes, the execution of Akmal Shaikh is to be deplored and regretted, as should be any execution, and the airwaves are full of politicians bleating their "shock", "horror", and "disgust" over the Chinese action.

But would they, could they have shown the same sensitivity towards the value of human life when addressing the vast numbers of Iraqi and Afghan deaths caused by our military actions and, indeed, the deaths and ruined lives because of physical and mental injuries in our own forces? Sometimes, it seems lives are a lot cheaper than politicians' words.

Lesley Docksey

Buckland Newton, Dorset

Debate of leaders must be expanded

Your leading article "Debates could be the tonic our electoral politics need" (23 December), and your dismissal of the smaller parties' concerns in being excluded from the debates, reflects a wilful denial of the realities of devolution here in Wales and in Scotland. Education, Health, and Economic Development are all devolved areas, yet in these forthcoming debates we will hear Brown, Cameron and Clegg pontificating endlessly on these "bread and butter" issues which are beyond their remit in both Wales and Scotland, and making promises which they simply cannot deliver.

One of the big problems we have in Wales is the weakness of our own national media, with so many people here receiving their news in a "British" context. There is a huge democratic deficit where it comes to news production and consumption in Wales, which leads to a lack of knowledge about which powers lie with Cardiff and which lie with Westminster. This confusion will be magnified tenfold by these televised debates, which would present a blanket Westminster approach to everything.

I have no objection to televised debates per se, and there is a way in which they can acknowledge our political plurality, with the SNP and Plaid Cymru forming part of their respective governments in the two countries. One debate could be held on mainly "English" issues, featuring the three main parties. A second debate in Wales could feature the three leaders, along with Elfyn Llwyd (Plaid's parliamentary leader), and a third debate in Scotland could feature the three leaders with Angus Robertson (the SNP parliamentary leader).

Devolution might well be a modern-day reflection of the "the law of unintended consequences" where the Labour Party is concerned, but they, along with the other parties and media, have to respond creatively to those consequences.

Aled G Job

Gwynedd, Wales

Certainly, the televised debates between political leaders could be "just the tonic which British politics, and the jaded British public need", but that will not be the case unless those debates genuinely reflect the different political options voters will face.

The Green Party believes that we, and the other smaller parties, have a right to be heard as well. For the BBC to meet its legal and moral obligation to provide fair and impartial election coverage, it needs to ensure smaller parties are not disadvantaged by this change. Your justification for our omission (that "even three participants in a debate can be a crowd") assumes that more imaginative ways cannot be found to ensure our views are heard too, not necessarily on the same platform as the other leaders.

More than one million people voted Green at the last European elections, and we are on course to see our first MPs elected next year. And the inclusion of progressive alternatives to the tired old "business as usual" politics of the other parties would perhaps add a bit of "gin" to the plain tonic you prescribe.

Caroline Lucas MEP

Leader, Green Party, London N19

Am I alone in viewing David Cameron's overtures to Nick Clegg (report, 28 December) as having more to do with the Conservative Party leader's worries that he will be outperformed by Mr Clegg in the promised general election television debates?

I have a sneaking feeling that Mr Cameron will be more than matched, intellectually and presentationally, by Mr Clegg, with Mr Cameron suddenly recognising this, hence the urgent need to quickly anaesthetise the threat posed by the Lib Dem leader.

Mike Abbott

London W4

So David Cameron has started a love-fest aimed at luring Lib Dem voters to the Tories so we can have "strong, paternal government". With half of his MPs either climate-deniers or Europe-haters, one has to wonder what his aides put in his Christmas punch.

I'll vote for whichever party has the guts to admit we can't have economic growth and reduce our CO2 emissions, and offers to lead us to a resilient, sustainable alternative.

Manda Scott

Clungunford, Shropshire

Climate-change risk of global warfare

Perhaps, in the not too distant future, as the Maldives sink beneath the waves of the Indian Ocean, Mary Dejevsky will reconsider her abject apology for the failure of the politicians at Copenhagen ("Don't panic. Copenhagen really wasn't such a disaster", 22 December.) In the end, their desperate defence of the profit-obsessed corporate and national interests of the developed and developing powers such as China will make the catastrophic consequences of climate change all the more likely.

How will the superpowers respond to a future of increasing geopolitical instability with wars breaking out over water and food shortages, a world they have helped to create through prevarication and refusal to face the hard facts of reality?

Campaigners should replace the present crop of incompetent mainstream politicians. They must begin to show the people the lifestyle changes required to confront the worse climatic scenarios brought on by the unsustainable consumption that drives global capitalism in all its self-destructive forms.

Richard Denton-White

Portland, Dorset

Long history of the Iron Cross

The article by Tony Paterson about the Nazi reaction to Christmas (21 December) was very interesting and mostly accurate. But I dispute that the Iron Crosses on the tree illustrated can be described as Nazi, or the medal itself.

The Iron Cross was originally instituted in 1813 by Frederick III and was to be reinstituted at the outbreak of a major war. After 1813, this occurred in 1870 (the Franco-Prussian War), 1914 and 1939. The cross in the photograph accompanying the article is dated 1914 and carried the "W" cipher for Kaiser Wilhelm and, hence, the Imperial crown at the top. This is a First World War-era medal, or a representation thereof.

Yes, the Nazis did award Iron Crosses, with the swastika in the centre and dated 1939, but as an award it predates the 1939-45 war and the Nazi era.

Bob Phillips

Whitstable, Kent

Corruption risk in aid for Palestinians

The British Government's "£50m aid package" to the Palestinians is most welcome (report, 28 December). UNRWA in Gaza faces a financial crisis in all its field offices. But some questions require urgent answers, to make sure the neediest will be the beneficiaries. Has the Government conducted rigorous "due diligence" and "risk management" to make sure – as far as is humanly possible – that money won't be siphoned off by corrupt Palestinian officials? It is well known among aid agencies that the risk in the West Bank is of money being lost to corruption rather than to terrorism.

Are there guarantees from the Israeli occupation authorities that any infrastructure paid for by British aid won't be destroyed or rendered useless by the Wall, settler-only roads, curfews or checkpoints? And has any of this aid package been earmarked to help Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, whose living conditions are often as bad as, or even much worse than, those in the West Bank and Gaza?

As a charity, we are obliged to ensure donations are spent in ways that ensure the maximum benefit for those in desperate need, and no money is diverted for non-charitable purposes. It would be reassuring to know if the Government takes the same degree of care in spending our tax revenues.

Ibrahim Hewitt

Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Helping Palestinians in Need, London NW10

Mosque appalled over Nigerian

Your report about our institution ("Nigerian in aircraft attack linked to London mosque", 28 December), is misrepresentative. Many mosques, including our own, have been the subject of far-right violence, and such reports do not help diffuse feelings.

Given its community service to people of all faiths and none, the East London Mosque is appalled that it should be associated with such heinous acts. The mosque cannot comment on whether this individual attended here. More than 20,000 people, of Muslim and other faiths, visit us every week, for many purposes, including worship, weddings, and to use any of the 30 projects and services based here.

The East London Mosque condemns in the strongest possible terms the alleged attempt to blow up a transatlantic airliner. The mosque has consistently spoken out against such acts, and will continue to do so.

Ayub Khan

Secretary, East London Mosque and London Muslim Centre

You've been rumbled

Perhaps C Sladen (letters, 28 December) might see that the word "epicentre" was used figuratively in remarks on "trendy London eating". Indeed, the metaphor would stand if one were to consider that over-indulgence in some of these Notting Hill eateries might well result in some distinctly subterranean rumblings.

Susan I Harr

HULL, East Yorkshire

Well done, Cambridge

Andrew Fuller lists significant anniversaries in 2009 (letters, 28 December), but missed one of equal significance. This year is the 800th anniversary of the founding of the University of Cambridge. As the Chancellor of the University, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, stated (somewhat modestly), "The real significance of the 800th anniversary of the founding of a university at Cambridge is that the institution has not just survived for that long, but that it grew into an institution with a level of scholarship and research to compare with the most respected universities anywhere in the world."

Liz Jeffery


A fair step

The obvious solution to increasing fuel poverty (report, 28 December) is for government to mandate that energy suppliers introduce "escalator tariffs"; in other words, tariffs stepped so that the more a household consumes, the greater per-unit price they pay. This would enable suppliers to lower the cost of the energy on the first few steps, reducing fuel poverty. Increasing the price for higher-consuming customers would be a clear incentive to increase the energy efficiency of their properties.

Nick Collingridge

Knebworth, Hertfordshire

Wake up at the back

In the Richard Ingrams article "Stick to being a headmaster", he refers to "the obligatory IT" (26 December), which he admits means little to "old-fashioned types like himself". As Anthony Seldon's students will know, the subject is ICT, which stands for information and communications technology. Could do better, Richard.

Ciaran Clerkin

(former headteacher), London E11

Frankly, it's wrong

The failure on the part of Royal Mail to frank postage stamps (letters, 28 December) is a common enough occurrence, but should result in no loss of revenue. Dare I mention to John Sharkey that the reuse of stamps is, er, um, dishonest?

Colin V Smith

St Helens, Merseyside