We feel sorry for the loss of any life, even those who deserve to be executed for their crimes. And the death of Akmal Shaikh, a British national who was executed on Tuesday, is no exception. Mourning his death, however, does not mean we disagree with his execution. Nor does it mean we agree with the appeals for his clemency by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his family.
Brown's appeal was based on the claim of Shaikh's family that he had had a history of mental illness. The prime minister has condemned the execution in very strong terms, and even said he is "appalled" that the Chinese court did not grant Shaikh clemency. But the British authorities could not provide any evidence to prove that Shaikh had a long history of mental illness.
However serious a person's crime, his or her family members will never want their loved one to undergo capital punishment. The same is the case with Shaikh's family. And that is understandable.
According to Article 18 of China's Criminal Law, an intellectually challenged person can be pardoned for a crime if it is committed when he or she had no control over his/her action. If his/her mental illness is of an intermittent nature, he/she shall be held guilty if the crime is committed when he/she was in a normal state of mind.
Shaikh's mental state was perfectly sound when he was arrested with 4 kg of heroin upon reaching Urumqi airport in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region on Sep 12, 2007.
Intellectually challenged people do a lot of inexplicable things when they lose control of their action. They can turn violent, vandalize property, kill someone or even commit suicide. But seldom have we heard of a mentally ill person hiding as much as 4 kg of heroin in his double-layered suitcase.
That the plaintiff himself reportedly ruled out the possibility of (or any of his family members) having a history of mental disorder contradicts the account of his family. More importantly, Chinese courts deliver the death sentence in extreme cases, and they are extra cautious when a foreigner goes on trial for his crime. In Shaikh's case, the court had no reason not to consider the plaintiff's alleged mental illness if he showed any signs of suffering from it while he was in jail.
Some foreign organizations and media outlets are using the "first execution of a European in China in more than 50 years" to fan passions. Ironically, they have succeeded only in exposing European chauvinism, for they have conveniently forgotten the principle purportedly very close to the heart: All men are created equal and everyone should be equal before the law.
China's Criminal Law applies to anyone who commits a crime in this country. The death penalty is handed down to people guilty of committing the most heinous crimes. Had the court shown leniency toward Shaikh simply because he was a British citizen it would have violated the spirit of the law.
(China Daily 12/31/2009 page8)