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China Executes British National, Prompting Condemnation

Briton Akmal Shaikh, undated
China has executed a British man convicted of drug smuggling, after rejecting appeals from the British government and the man's relatives, who claimed he was mentally unstable.

Fifty-three-year-old Akmal Shaikh, a father of five, was executed early today by lethal injection at a prison in Urumqi, the capital of China's far-western Xinjiang region.

Shaikh, who was born in Pakistan but grew up in Britain and held a British passport, was the first European national to be executed in China in 58 years, according to the London-based legal charity Reprieve.

Shaikh was arrested in September 2007 in Urumqi after arriving from Tajikistan with 4 kilograms of heroin -- an amount Chinese authorities argued was enough to kill 26,800 people. He was sentenced to death in December 2008 and lost his final appeal earlier this year before China's Supreme Court.

Shaikh's family, British rights organizations, and the British government had urged the Chinese authorities not to execute him, saying he suffered from mental illness.

On December 28, Britain's minister of state for foreign and Commonwealth affairs, Ivan Lewis, made a final official appeal to spare Shaikh's life.

"We've made 27 representations over the last two years at prime-minister, foreign-secretary, and ministerial level to the Chinese about Mr. Shaikh's case, and even at this late stage I hope they will see that in a modern world it is not appropriate to put a man with mental illness to death."

Shaikh's relatives and human rights campaigners said a criminal gang had duped him into carrying the drugs into China.

Reprieve said it had medical evidence that Shaikh suffered from a delusion he was going to China to become a pop star. New witnesses have emerged to support that version of events.

Two British men, Paul Newberry and Gareth Saunders, both quoted by Reprieve, said they had helped him record a song in Poland and it was apparent to them that he was mentally disturbed.

On the eve of his execution, two of Shaikh's cousins were allowed to visit him in his Urumqi prison.

The official Xinhua news agency quoted China's Supreme Court as saying today that documents provided by the British side "could not prove" Shaikh had a mental disorder.

Reprieve issued a statement from Shaikh's family members saying they expressed "their grief at the Chinese decision to refuse mercy."

According to the British NGO, the last European executed in China was Antonio Riva, an Italian pilot who was shot by a firing squad in 1951 after being convicted of involvement in what China said was a plot to assassinate Mao Zedong and other high-ranking communist officials.

compiled from agency reports