John-Paul Flintoff

UN envoy's plea over death-row Briton ignored

A United Nations human rights envoy has accused China of ignoring his attempt to save Akmal Shaikh, the mentally ill British man who is due to be executed there on Tuesday.

Professor Philip Alston, UN special rapporteur on summary or extrajudicial executions, said he wrote to the Chinese authorities asking them to justify their decision to kill Shaikh after he was found guilty of smuggling almost 9lb of heroin into the country. If he dies, he will be the first European Union national to be executed in China for 50 years.

“The Chinese do respond quite regularly [to such approaches] but they have not responded on this particular case. It is unusual because they are fairly assiduous,” Alston said.

British government officials were flying to China this weekend to make an eleventh-hour request for clemency.

“I am concerned both about the execution of someone for a crime that did not involve a killing and about the apparent failure of the court to order a full mental evaluation of the defendant before sentencing him to death,” Alston said.

“My understanding is that in this case the Chinese government, or the courts at least, did not go ahead and request these examinations.”

Shaikh, 53, who is believed to suffer from bipolar disorder, was arrested in 2007 after arriving in Urumqi, northwest China, with the drugs in a suitcase.

He said he had been sent there by two men he had met in Poland who promised to help make him a pop star in China.

For at least six years Shaikh had demonstrated increasingly bizarre and erratic behaviour, including bombarding various world statesmen with incomprehensible and rambling emails.

275 words. First published 27 December 2009. © Times Newspapers Ltd.