Like many others I went to sleep last night fearful that there was little hope that 53 year old mentally ill British citizen Akmal Shaikh would avoid the executioner in China this morning and, sadly, my fears were confirmed when I woke up this morning.
I don't think the use of the death penalty is ever justified. Murder carried out by the state is still murder. No exceptions. Having said that, murder carried out by the state of someone who is mentally ill takes brutality to a whole new level.
The charities Amnesty International and Reprieve should be commended for their valiant attempts to save Akmal Shaikh, but their efforts were probably always doomed to failure without meaningful intervention by the British Government. As far as I can see, all the Foreign Office and Gordon Brown did was to ask nicely for the Chinese Government to show clemency. That was never going to work with a regime that doesn't value human rights in any way. I want to know exactly what went on and how much diplomatic pressure was put on China and whether it was threatened with any meaningful consequences if it went ahead with this execution.
The statement the BBC has published from the Chinese this morning makes sickening reading:
"We express our strong dissatisfaction and opposition to the British government's unreasonable criticism of the case. We urge [them] to correct their mistake in order to avoid harming China-UK relations,"
You can sense the swaggering of the bully in those words. The Chinese regime clearly thinks it can do what it likes, not just on human rights, but on climate change, too.
But perhaps this wasn't the first time Akmal Shaikh had been failed by the British authorities. I don't know much about his personal treatment, but I do know that many people with mental health problems don't get the support that they need. Mental health support is very much the poor relation in the NHS family and the quality of care a person gets varies according to what's available in their area. What sort of care did Akmal Shaikh get and if it had been more effective, would he ever have been in such a vulnerable state that he was duped into smuggling the drugs?
Akmal Shaikh's death is shocking because of its manner, but it should make us all think about how people with mental illnesses are treated, and we should maybe also wonder why his name wasn't on the page of every tabloid newspaper from the time he was arrested. It couldn't possibly be because he was mentally ill and not white, could it?
UPDATE: I thought I'd draw your attention to three fantastic posts on this and the wider issues surrounding drugs policy and the death penalty, two from Sara Bedford who fisks Leo McKinstry beautifully and one from Jeremy Rowe.