China shocked the world yesterday after executing a British man, Akmal Shaikh, after he was caught smuggling £250,000 worth of heroin into the country.
Akmal’s journey began in Kentish Town, North London, where he lived with his wife and two children. He and his wife ran a cab firm close to Kentish Town tube station, and things seemed good for Mr Shaikh.
There’s no doubting that Akmal Shaikh was an enigma of a man who in 2005 travelled to Poland because he believed he could set up his own airline. A lack of aviation experience and lack of funds soon hampered his dream before too long, but he remained undeterred.
After acquiring a girlfriend in Poland his behaviour became a cause for concern for his then girlfriend who called him “really silly and crazy.” At no point did he become threatening or dangerous- he just partook in oddball behaviour that was perfectly harmless.
He began to show signs of mental illness in 2001 after his first marriage ended and he seemed to “go off the rails.” It’s most likely that he suffered from bi-polar disorder, a condition that can make its victims behave extremely unusually.
One of Akmal’s dreams was to become a pop star and he believed that if he travelled to Kyrgyzstan to meet a record producer his dreams could come true. Information claimed by his lawyers proves that he had been befriended by criminals, one named Carlos, who wanted to take advantage of his vulnerability and naivety. What followed was a labyrinth of eastern European gangsters, harebrained up in the air schemes, and dreams of international pop stardom.
Akmal’s pop song “Come Little Rabbit” was the song that he believed could solve world peace and unite the world. Two men who helped him record the song said it was clear that he was psychiatrically ill at the time.
Gareth Saunders, a British teacher and musician who sang backing vocals on the song said that “It would be totally unlike him to get mixed up in drugs. However, it would be totally typical of him to fall for some kind of story that some drug dealer might spin to him concerning making his record in China.”
On September 2007, Shaikh flew into Urumqi, China and was stopped by customs officials who found two packets of heroin in his luggage worth about £250,000. Mr Shaikh said that he didn’t know anything about the drugs, and that the suitcase didn’t belong to him. Shaikh was arrested and sentenced to death shortly afterwards.
What makes this case so shocking is that China ignored evidence that showed that Akmal Shaikh had a long standing history of mental illness, and did not consider this when putting him to death. It’s almost certain that he became caught up in a world he did not understand, and was duped into drug trafficking.
China has received widespread criticism from the UK, including from Gordon Brown, but China have remained defiant on the issue. A spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry told a press briefing in Beijing: “We urge the British to correct their mistake in order to avoid harming China UK relations.”
The legal charity Reprive made a last ditch attempt with Stephen Fry making a plea through the charity to save Mr Shaikh but to no avail. He was executed by lethal injection on the 29th of December at 10.30am.