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Death Penalty Vote

Death Penalty Vote


An online poll of Chinese people registered 99% support for the decision to execute Akmal Shaikh, the British man convicted of smuggling four kilos of heroin.  Shaikh was arrested after flying into Urumqi, in the far north-west of China two years ago. In an unusually protracted case, by Chinese standards, he was sentenced in November 2008, his final appeal being rejected recently and only a decision by the Supreme People’s Court not to ratify the sentence can now save him.

The British government has been appealing for the Chinese to take Shaikh’s mental state into account and failing this that clemency should be granted.  Yesterday Gordon Brown raised the matter with Dai Bingguo, a Chinese State Councillor and National Security advisor to President Hu. Shaikh has received impassioned support from his own family, the charities MIND and SANE, as well as from Stephen Fry, a sufferer of bi-polar disorder.
As the Chinese legal system currently operates it is almost certain that if Shaikh had been a Chinese citizen he would have been executed in 2007; the fact that such long consideration has been given in this case is solely because he is a foreigner.  The Chinese have previously executed foreign nationals for drug smuggling, including a Nigerian citizen on the 26th June this year.

The online poll may not precisely represent the feelings of the Chinese population but a straw poll amongst Chinese citizens indicates that at least 90% feel the death sentence appropriate and that it should already have been carried out. There is very little sympathy here for drug smugglers and there is minimal support for the abolition of the death penalty. In this respect the Chinese point to the fact that their streets are considerably freer of serious crime than most nations in the world.

Online blogs by both the Chinese and ex-pats further support Shaikh’s sentence. An Australian commenting, “In the airports there are huge signs warning people of the legal consequences of trying to bring in illegal drugs. Can’t people read!!!?? China has every right to keep this scourge out of their country. I am tired of foreigners flouting the law then expecting some sweet deal. Get a life!! He needs to take responsibility for his own actions.”

Locals are more outspoken, “Why is this even an issue? The guy is either a) a dumbass or b) crazy. Either of which, he deserves the penalty that he got because he broke the law.”

Expatriates living in China are very well aware of the severity of the local laws and generally uphold them, if they do not they know they face serious consequences. Quite often the Chinese police are more tolerant of foreigners misbehaving than they are of their own nationals; but this does not apply to serious crime. Being held in Chinese custody, especially under the threat of a death sentence, is not anything any of us would wish for. If Akmal Shaikh has a long standing mental illness, as is suggested by his family, it is highly likely that this would have worsened during the last two years; it would be extremely difficult to prove he was mentally ill at the time he carried the heroin into China.

Shaikh’s crime, court case and appeals occur at a time when there is growing friction in central Asia. This friction is undoubtedly due to the pressure being exerted on known terrorists in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the latter being a country where NATO stands by and allows the growth and trade of poppies and heroin to feed the demands of the west. The last thing that China, or the world, needs is further destabilization in this area. For China, the worst case scenario is a homegrown demand led boom in the heroin trade, which would increase street crime and further finance terrorist groups. From a socio-economic basis it is right that China stamps down as hard as it can on drug trafficking.
Looking through the eyes of a European, the sentence of death hanging over Akmal Shaikh appears harsh indeed. But China is not Europe, China has its own values and those of the government are, more often than not, shared by the people. Whilst sympathy must go out to Shaikh’s family, the concept of the greatest good for the greatest number does not suggest clemency will prevail.

Poll undertaken by Huanqiu.com