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China execution of Briton Akmal Shaikh stresses UK ties

China executed Briton Akmal Shaikh Tuesday for drug smuggling despite assertions by British officials and the man's family that he was mentally unstable. Shaikh's lawyers said he had been framed.

By Jonathan LandrethCorrespondent / December 29, 2009

China executed Briton Akmal Shaikh on Tuesday for heroin smuggling despite multiple pleas for clemency made by his family, human rights advocates, and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. They have said that Mr. Shaikh was mentally ill.

Luis Belmonte Diaz/Reprieve/AP/File



In a move likely to exacerbate already delicate Sino-British relations, China on Tuesday executed a 53-year-old Briton convicted of heroin smuggling, despite multiple pleas for clemency for mental illness by his family, human rights advocates, and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

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At 10:30 a.m. local time, Akmal Shaikh, a London cab driver of Pakistani origin and the father of five children, was put to death by lethal injection in Urumqi, the capital of the largely-Muslim Xinjiang region of western China, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Mr. Shaikh's court-appointed attorneys, Cao Hong and Qi Lei of the Xinjiang North law firm, failed to convince the Supreme People's Court that their client had been framed by a drug gang preying on his alleged disability, according to Reprieve, the London-based anti-death-penalty advocacy that tried to assist in his case.

After the court reiterated its decision and an eleventh hour appeal by the Foreign office in London failed to sway the Chinese ambassador to call Beijing, Shaikh became the first European citizen to be executed in China in 58 years, Chinese media said, citing Ministry of Foreign Affairs records.

British Prime Minister Brown reacted immediately in a statement issued by the Foreign Office in London: "I condemn the execution of Akmal Shaikh in the strongest terms, and am appalled and disappointed that our persistent requests for clemency have not been granted."

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu retorted from a press conference in Beijing: "Nobody has the right to speak ill of China's judicial sovereignty. We express our strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition over the groundless British accusations. We urge the British side to mend its errors and avoid damaging China-British relations."

Long-simmering British tensions

Britain is China's No. 3 trade partner in Europe, with total 2008 trade of $45 billion. The two countries recently traded accusations over the troubled climate-change negotiations in Copenhagen.

Chinese are mindful of defeats by Britain during the Opium Wars in the 1800s that led to Hong Kong's colonization. Beijing regularly voices concern about the heroin problem in Xinjiang, a region bordering Central Asia that was rocked by ethnic violence and protests in July, followed by widespread panic over alleged syringe attacks in September.

An October survey by The Global Times, a nationalistic Chinese newspaper, said that 96.7 percent of more than 3,500 online respondents said British media were interfering with Shaikh's case, while 98.8 percent supported the court's guilty verdict.

Over the weekend, Shaikh was still "hopeful" when relatives met him in Urumqi, his cousin Soohail Shaikh told reporters at Beijing airport late on Monday. Cousins Seema Khan and Latif Shaikh were in Beijing on Tuesday to make last-minute pleas to authorities.