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China executes Briton who allegedly has mental illness

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 31 December 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b5682
  1. Jane Parry
  1. 1Hong Kong

    Mental health experts, lawyers, and the British government have condemned the execution of Akmal Shaikh, 53, by lethal injection in Urumqi, Xinjiang, China on 29 December without first assessing his mental condition.

    UK legal action charity Reprieve repeatedly made representations to the Chinese government stating that Mr Shaikh appeared to be mentally ill and had been duped into being a drug mule with promises of a career in pop music if he smuggled heroin to China.

    The UK Foreign Office had provided the Chinese authorities with strong evidence of Mr Shaikh’s long history of bizarre behaviour, but its pleas for a medical assessment of his condition were ignored.

    Peter Schaapveld, consultant clinical and forensic psychologist with Park Royal Secure Services, who offered his services free to Reprieve, told the BMJ that he was certain Shaikh, who lived what has been described as a “colourful” lifestyle, was suffering from a mental disorder. Had his mental illness been diagnosed and accepted by the Chinese courts, Shaikh may have escaped the death sentence—although he would still have been imprisoned.

    Dr Schaapveld had tried to see Shaikh in May 2009, but was denied access during the consular visit. He briefed the consular staff on mental illness, however, and gave them specific questions to ask Shaikh.

    “The next day was the Court of Appeal hearing, to which I was also denied access,” he told the BMJ. “But a consular staff member took notes and immediately afterwards I sat with the staff member for three hours and got a verbatim account of [Shaikh’s] …

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