China Executes Briton Accused Of Smuggling Drugs

Disregarding international appeals for clemency, China has executed a British citizen on charges of drug smuggling. The man's relatives say he had a history of mental illness and was unwittingly lured into the smuggling operation by drug dealers.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

In China today, a man was put to death. His execution has caused a stir for two reasons, especially in Britain. For one, the man was a British subject and he was executed despite claims that he was mentally ill.

From Shanghai, NPR's Louisa Lim reports.

LOUISA LIM: This morning, 56-year-old Akmal Shaikh was put to death by lethal injection in Northwestern China. About his crime, there was no question. He carried almost nine pounds of heroin in his luggage into China. He said this suitcase wasn't his and he didn't know about the drugs. About his mental state, questions remain. His family says he was bipolar or manic depressive. Sally Rowen, from the advocacy group Reprieve, has been campaigning on his behalf.

Ms. SALLY ROWEN (Legal Director, Reprieve): Chinese law has provisions for mental health defenses for excusing responsibility where someone is clearly too ill to know what they're doing. It was a barbaric act to execute a man who is just incompetent.

LIM: Shaikh's bizarre behavior included recording this song about rabbits as an anthem to world peace.

(Soundbite of song, "Come Little Rabbit")

Mr. AKMAL SHAIKH: (Singing) Come little rabbit come to me, come little rabbit let it be...

LIM: But in a statement, the Chinese embassy in London argued he'd had no previous medical record of mental illness. It said he'd smuggled enough heroin to cause 26,800 deaths. Beijing's Foreign Ministry Spokeswomen Jiang Yu firmly defended Chinese judicial sovereignty.

Ms. JIANG YU (Spokeswoman, Chinese Foreign Ministry): (Through Translator) We express our strong dissatisfaction and opposition to the British government's unreasonable criticism of the case. We urge the British to correct the mistake in order to avoid harming China-U.K. relations.

LIM: British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said he's appalled requests for clemency were denied. But Foreign Office Minister Ivan Lewis's reaction underlines the diplomatic dilemma about what if anything happens next.

Mr. IVAN LEWIS (British Foreign Minister): This morning is not the time for a knee-jerk reaction. It's true we must, and will, continue to engage with China. But it needs to be clear: As that country plays a greater role in the world, they have to understand their responsibility to adhere to the most basic standards of human rights.

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Shanghai.

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