Bad press for China after Briton’s execution
The government of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who had personally telephoned his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao in December to plead for clemency towards Shaikh, reacted strongly to the execution.
“We deeply regret that mental health concerns had no bearing on the final judgment despite requests by Mr Shaikh’s defense lawyer and repeated calls by the Prime Minister, Ministers, members of the Opposition, as well as European Union,” the UK Foreign Office said in a statement.
China reacted angrily to the British statement, saying the execution was carried out “in accordance with the law”.
The UK-based NGO Reprieve, which had started a campaign to support Shaikh and revealed that he suffered from a mental condition called bipolar disorder, said Chinese authorities have refused requests for the accused to be examined by a psychiatrist.
According to CNN.com, Dr Peter Schaapveld, a forensic psychologist, traveled to Urumqi earlier this year for Shaikh’s appeal hearing but was unable to meet him or attend the appeal. After reading Shaikh’s correspondence, he confirmed that the man was “probably suffering from bipolar disorder and may also have an additional delusional psychosis”.
World Coalition member Amnesty International said Shaikh’s execution “ highlight the injustice and inhumanity of the death penalty, particularly as it is implemented in China”.
Sam Zarifi, Amnesty’s Asia programme director, told The Guardian: “Under international human rights law, as well Chinese law, a defendant’s mental health can and should be taken into account, and it doesn’t seem that in this case the Chinese authorities did so.”
“The UK, the EU and the rest of the world should continue to press the Chinese government to increase the transparency surrounding the death penalty in China and to improve the due process offered all defendants, particularly those facing charges punishable by death,” he added.
A signal for the international community
UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Philip Alston also criticized the execution. “International law points very strongly in the direction of only carrying out the death penalty for crimes which have led to deaths,” he said in an interview with BBC Radio 4.
“It is time for the international community to mount a much more concerted effort to put an end to these sorts of executions, and not only to react when one individual cases arises which is particularly troubling to us,” he added.
In an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Germany’s Commissioner for Human Rights Günter Nooke said Shaikh’s execution showed “what wobbly legs our dialogue about greater rule of law and human rights in China are standing on,” he said.
In China itself, many internet users welcomed the execution in nationalistic comments referring to the British opium trade imposed on China in the 19th century. However, journalist Lu Jingxian wrote in the English-language government newspaper Global Times: “Justification of the death penalty is an open-ended question, but disrespect for life is embarrassing. Lack of open talk about the condemned in China may reflect a lack of veneration toward life.”
Referring to the one-sided comments welcoming Shabikh’s execution, he added: “Anyone of us can be wronged by public opinion. Don’t we want our voices to be heard? We should be more lenient when judging the lives of others if we want our own lives to be better.”