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Shaikh's family visit ahead of execution

By unknown | Dec 29, 2009 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

BEIJING - Relatives of a British man due to be executed in China this week for drug trafficking visited him on death row yesterday after making a last-ditch appeal for clemency, the man's lawyers said.

Akmal Shaikh, a 53-year-old father of three, whom supporters say suffers from bipolar disorder, faces execution today after losing his final appeal in China's supreme court, the British government and his legal team say.

If the death penalty is carried out Shaikh would become the first national from a European Union country to be executed in China in 50 years, according to the London charity Reprieve, which is providing the man with legal counsel.

Shaikh's two cousins flew to Urumqi, the capital of China's far western Xinjiang region, to visit him and petition the government and the courts for mercy, according to Reprieve.

British consular officials have gone to Urumqi to "assist the Shaikh family", embassy spokesperson David Shaw said.

"They spent an hour and a half with him, and were able to give him the messages from the family," Sally Rowen, legal director of Reprieve's death penalty team said.

She said it was the first time he had had direct contact with a family member for two years.

Reprieve director Clive Stafford Smith said he had been in constant contact with Akmal's family: "They are simply praying for a reprieve, fearing for the health of his mother, who is very frail."

The regional government was not immediately available for comment on the case.

Shaikh, from London, was arrested in September 2007 in Urumqi with 4kg of heroin. Campaigners say he was duped into carrying the drugs for a criminal gang. He was sentenced to death last year.

Britain opposes the death penalty and prime minister Gordon Brown has raised Shaikh's case with China's leaders and appealed for clemency.

Shaikh's brother Akbar has als written to Fu Ying, Beijing's ambassador to London, appealing for the Chinese authorities to show mercy. A protest was planned outside the Chinese embassy in London later yesterday.

But China - which has not publicly confirmed the execution is to take place - said last week that Shaikh's case has been handled properly.

"China's judicial authorities independently handled this case in accordance with the law. Drug smuggling is a grave crime in international practice," foreign ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu said.

"During the entire process, the litigation rights and the relevant rights and interests of the defendant were fully respected and guaranteed. China has offered prompt consular information to the UK and arranged consular visits."

Reprieve said the Shaikh cousins were to deliver a plea of mercy to Chinese President Hu Jintao and the National People's Congress, which receives petitions for pardon or clemency. The family asked that a full mental health evaluation be conducted to assess the impact of his mental illness. - Sapa-AFP


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