China's decision to execute British citizen Akmal Shaikh--convicted of heroin smuggling--over the objections of the
British government is stirring strong emotions.
The British government argued Shaikh should not have faced the death sentence, claiming he was mentally ill and may have been exploited by other smugglers. Prime
Minister Gordon Brown's condemnation of the execution was followed
by a swift Chinese retort asserting China's judicial sovereignty and
the importance of halting drug trafficking. The high-level political
furor is mirrored online. While many are outraged by the decision,
others think the Chinese argument merits a second look.
- Time for China to Join the Civilized Nations "Mr Shaikh's death," writes the Telegraph's George Pitcher
in a scathing response, "doubtless will be of little consequence to the
Chinese authorities, who put some 1,700 people to death during the past
year alone. The scale of this judicial murdering machine is difficult
to grasp and even puts the United States to shame." He calls for the
European Union to speak out against China, and impose "significant and
hurtful" sanctions "until China brings its legislature into line with
European criminal sentencing." His reasoning: if "China ... aspires to
respectable place on the international stage ...
Beijing must know, today and unequivocally, that putting to death a
mentally ill man in possession of a British passport is no way to go
about its civilising aspirations."
- Carelessly Unfair The Guardian's Clive Stafford Smith, who earlier argued that "some less charitable people cottoned onto Akmal's vulnerability and made him their unwitting drug mule," is struck
by the Chinese government's declaration that the number of lives
potentially lost through the large amount of heroin Akmal carried
justified the execution. Crunching the numbers to check the
government's figures, Smith finds a discrepancy and thinks China has
exaggerated: "uch exaggeration in a matter of life or death speaks
the 'cautious approach' that the Chinese claim to be taking on capital
punishment, along with their 'careful reforms.'"
- U.S. Hands Tied by Own Policy "Unfortunately," writes Americablog's Chris Ryan, "the US is unable to join the criticism since the
death penalty is so widely used."
- Member of British Public: Problems with Both Governments Scottish blogger Caron
thinks "murder carried out by the state of someone who is mentally
ill takes brutality to a whole new level," and takes issue with several
curiosities of the case. First, "as far as I can see," she writes, "all
the Foreign Office and Gordon
Brown did was to ask nicely for the Chinese Government to show
clemency ... I want to know exactly what went on and how
much diplomatic pressure was put on China." She also finds the Chinese
statement, which states "strong dissatisfaction and opposition to the
British government's unreasonable criticism of the case" sickening:
"you can sense the swaggering of the bully in those words," Caron says,
likening the Chinese stance on human rights to its obduracy on climate
change. Finally, Caron wonders whether, if Akmal Shaikh had received
proper mental health care under the British system, " he [would] ever
have been in such a vulnerable state that he was duped
into smuggling the drugs," and suggests neither Shaikh nor his case got
the attention they deserved.
- Telegraph Commenters: Voices of Dissent Commenters responding to an open discussion prompt
at the Telegraph's website offer some dissenting opinions. "I
understand that the Chinese do have a drug problem," points out
commenter Mark Denton, "... so maybe their approach to those who take
part in this evil trade is correct." Nikos Retsos adds that "if Akmal
Shaikh was an Afghan, and he was executed for drug trading, Mr. Brown
would have lauded the Afghan government for doing everything to curb
the scourge of drug trade." A user named Tiger agrees that "if you
break the law in any country you are (quite rightly) subject to that
country's laws and punishments." Yet a number of commenters side with
the official British position as well, one named Shane arguing that
"when the trafficker is a foreign man any civilized country will
consider the relations between the countries and avoid death sentence,
especially when it is claimed that the man is mentally ill." He thinks
the Chinese decision not to commute the sentence to life imprisonment
shows the "scant respect [members of the Chinese government] have for
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