China vigorously defended its justice system today, a day after its Supreme Court rejected the final appeal from a Briton who faces the death penalty on charges of drug-smuggling.
The case of Akmal Shaikh, 53, from London, has prompted several appeals from Gordon Brown to China’s leaders to exercise clemency towards a man who reportedly suffers from mental health problems.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said: "China’s judicial authorities independently handled this case in accordance with the law. Drug-smuggling is a grave crime in international practice."
She rejected charges from groups supporting Mr Shaikh that the courts had refused to allow independent assessments of the Briton’s mental health. "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."
Mr Shaikh was arrested in September 2007 on arrival in Urumqi, the capital of the far western Xinjiang region, in possession of four kg (8.8lb) of heroin. Campaigners said that he was duped into carrying the drugs for a criminal gang.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said that the Chinese authorities had confirmed the execution would take place on December 29. The FCO said it was “alarmed and deeply concerned" at the news that the final appeal had been denied.
It also said it regretted that Chinese officials had not taken Mr Shaikh's mental health into account despite repeated requests by Mr Brown, government ministers and the European Union.
If the death penalty is carried out, Mr Shaikh would become the first national from a European Union country to be executed in China in decades.
The British prisoners' rights charity, Reprieve, which has been campaigning on behalf of Mr Shaikh, said he would become the first EU national to be put to death in China in 50 years. Diplomats have said an Italian national was executed during the chaotic Cultural Revolution in the 1970s.
Mr Brown pressed the case to the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in a telephone call earlier this month, officials have said. An FCO spokesman said: "We will be using the next few days to renew and intensify our appeal to the Chinese authorities for clemency. The Prime Minister and other ministers have been, and remain, closely engaged."
Reprieve said it has medical evidence that Mr Shaikh, who is married with three children, suffered from a delusion that he was going to China to record a hit single that would usher in world peace. However, he was duped by a criminal gang into unwittingly carrying drugs for them into China, Reprieve alleged, saying that his strange behaviour was "influenced or caused by" his mental illness.
Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve’s director, said: “I just spoke to Akmal’s brother about this terrible news, and it is impossible to imagine what Akmal’s family are going through this holiday season. This is no time for pride – they beg the Chinese authorities to show compassion and take Akmal’s mental health problems into account.”