I strongly believe that cultural and political differences which exist throughout the world should be respected. We cannot expect to impose, unilaterally, a single set of values, defined as ‘western‘, on states with long traditions, and histories, which do not conform to the western European / north American experience.
However, by any standards, the execution of Akmal Shaikh, in China, is a senseless, vindictive and barbaric act.
It would be difficult to deny that Shaikh was convicted of a particularly unpleasant crime and it is known that heroin trafficking in Asia frequently carries the most severe penalties. It is also fair to point out that the involvement of a Briton in the Chinese drug trade is a matter freighted with historical resonance.
If Shaikh’s bipolar condition had been investigated, and deemed irrelevant to the facts, then China’s misdemeanour would be of a different order entirely.
But the court refused even to take into consideration a mental illness, which his family claim made Akmal Shaikh severely delusional. We can only speculate about the precise nature of his disorder and its effect on the executed man’s capacity to assume legal responsibility for his actions. We cannot know for definite whether he really did believe that he was entering China to embark upon a career in popular music, or whether he was aware of his cargo and understood its harmful nature. But any court, and particularly one which had available to it the sanction of death, should have considered in detail the possible repercussions of Shaikh’s illness.
Amnesty International claims that China carried out 1,718 executions in 2008. A tally which corresponds to nearly five each and every day. Because Mr Shaikh is a Briton, his case has attracted substantial coverage. How many more people have been killed in questionable circumstances in the furtherance of China’s idea of justice?