China executes Briton over drugs

China on Tuesday executed a British citizen caught smuggling heroin, the British Foreign Office said, in a move quickly condemned by Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Akmal Shaikh’s family and the British government had appealed for clemency, arguing the former businessman suffered from bipolar disorder. The Chinese supreme court rejected the appeal saying there was insufficient grounds.

”I condemn the execution of Akmal Shaikh in the strongest terms, and am appalled and disappointed that our persistent requests for clemency have not been granted,” Brown said in a statement issued by the British Foreign Office.

”I am particularly concerned that no mental health assessment was undertaken.”

China had yet to publicly confirm Shaikh had been executed in the western city of Urumqi at the time Brown made the statement. Shaikh had been due to be executed on Tuesday morning.

Shaikh was still ”hopeful” when relatives met him in Urumqi this weekend, his cousin Soohail Shaikh told reporters at Beijing airport late on Monday night.

”We beg the Chinese authorities for mercy and clemency to help reunite the heartbroken family,” Soohail Shaikh had said.

Brown last week asked China not to execute Shaikh, who was born in Pakistan and moved to Britain as a boy. While not leading to any diplomatic rift, the case could harden public opinion in Britain against China, and also rile Chinese public opinion.

The two countries recently traded accusations over the troubled Copenhagen climate-change negotiations.

Shaikh’s defenders, including British rights group Reprieve which lobbies against the death penalty, say he was tricked into smuggling the heroin by a gang who promised to make him a pop star. Arrested in 2007, a Chinese court rejected his final appeal on December 21.

Reprieve posted on the internet a recording Shaikh made of a song, Come Little Rabbit, which it described as ”dreadful” but which Shaikh believed would be an international hit and help bring about world peace.

He would be the first European citizen to be executed in China since 1951, Western rights groups say.

Shaikh’s family says he suffered from bipolar disorder, and was tricked into becoming a mule by a smuggling gang who promised him a music recording contract.

”This is not about how much we hate the drug trade. Britain as well as China are completely committed to take it on,” the British Foreign Secretary, David Milliband, said in a statement emailed to reporters. ”The issue is whether Mr Shaikh has become an additional victim of it.” – Reuters

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