Condemned British man's family flies to China

AP News
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Posted: Dec 27, 2009 8:21 AM

Two cousins of a British man who is due to be executed in China this week for drug trafficking arrived in the country Sunday to plead for his life, an activist group said.

Akmal Shaikh, a father of three, is scheduled to be executed Tuesday morning.

His family wants Chinese authorities to take into account Shaikh might be mentally ill, the London-based group Reprieve said. Family members say Shaikh has a lifelong history of unbalanced behavior and may suffer bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression.

Beijing rejected an appeal from Prime Minister Gordon Brown to spare Shaikh, 53, who was convicted in 2008 of carrying a suitcase containing almost 9 pounds (4 kilograms) of heroin to Urumqi, a city in China's far western Xinjiang region.

"We plead for his life," Shaikh's cousin, Soohail, says in a petition for clemency, according to Reprieve, "asking that a full mental health evaluation be conducted to assess the impact of his mental illness."

Soohail Shaikh and his brother, Nasir, were flying to Urumqi to ask for a review by the court that sentenced Shaikh, Reprieve said. It said they also will deliver pleas for mercy to Chinese President Hu Jintao and to the country's legislature, which is responsible for considering such petitions.

"We are not asking for special treatment for Akmal because he is British, but simply as a family who are devastated at the possibility of losing our son, our brother, our father, our cousin," Shaikh's brother Akbar, said in a letter to Hu, according to Reprieve.

Reprieve says Shaikh, a small business owner from London, was lured to China by two men who promised to help him launch a career in pop music. He was arrested traveling on a flight from Tajikistan to Urumqi. A preliminary psychological report commissioned by the group says Shaikh's actions "were most likely influenced by some form of delusional psychosis."

China executes more people than any other country but the Supreme People's Court in July called for the death penalty to be used less often and for only the most serious criminal cases.

The court overturned 10 percent of death sentences handed down in 2008, according to the government newspaper China Daily. But China still put at least 1,718 people to death in 2008, according to Amnesty International.

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On the Net:

Reprieve: http://www.reprieve.org.uk