The sad, strange case of Akmal Shaikh

I rarely post here anymore, but I think this story deserves more circulation than it has received.

In about 4 1/2 hours, a man is going to be put to death in China. His name is Akmal Shaikh. He’s not a hero. He wasn’t jailed for civil unrest or condemned for speaking out against China’s humanitarian transgressions. He is, quite simply, a British national whose mind has betrayed him and led him through a fantasy life as people are sometimes led through a fun house hall of mirrors.

Shaikh left his wife and children for a life on the streets of Poland trying to become alternately an airline magnate and a pop star. He cris-crossed the country, sometimes staying in homeless shelters writing hundreds of emails to Tony Blair, Paul McCartney and George W Bush. In his madness, he met a man named ‘Carlos’ who promised to help him become famous. At some point in 2007, while convinced he was on his way to meet music executives, he boarded a plane with a suitcase carrying £250,000.00 worth of heroin from Tajikistan into China. This was seized by customs officials. Shaikh insisted he knew nothing of the drugs, that his friend, due on the next plane, would help explain everything. The friend never showed.

Though mental illness is usually taken into account for severe crimes, the Chinese government takes a very dim view toward drug trafficking. Shaikh was sentenced to death. The British Foreign Office was not even informed of his sentencing until late in 2008, and Shaikh himself was not told of his sentence until 24 hours prior to the scheduled execution.

And so the tale of this very ill man will come to an abrupt end far from his children and family in a little less than five hours. His family, ill from anxiety from the coming execution, can do nothing. Appeals have been put through at the highest level. All that can be done is to wait.

My own governor as recently as 5 years ago denied clemency to a mentally ill inmate for a crime far more heinous (IMO) than drug trafficking. Where do we draw the line? Shaikh, for his deluded fantasies, seems a harmless character. My support for the death penalty waivers when faced with cases such as this.

What’s the debate? I’m not sure many, if any, who support the death penalty would argue that it should be imposed on drug runners. What’s the point of contention here?

My question, open for debate, is in my last paragraph. Where do we draw the line? The Supreme Court has determined that we should not impose the death penalty on the mentally retarded; does the same apply to the insane? If so, does that include criminally insane? If, by reason of mental faculties, one is not responsible for one’s actions, should that not include them as well?

I admit that in some part, this is my own way of rearranging my thoughts as they pertain to the death penalty. Though I am not a proponent of it in its current iteration in the United States, I do support the concept of a death penalty. This particular case is causing me to question that support, and where I feel it should/could be logically applicable.

A ruling from the US Supreme Court has zero influence on China.

Most mentally ill people manage to avoid being tricked into carrying 9 pounds of heroin into China. In fact, I don’t see any way one could reasonably assert that one either accidentally wound up with it, or was unaware of it as 9 pounds of heroin is a fairly hefty sized chunk of stuff.

Yes, China takes drug smuggling extremely seriously. They also have a particular issue with people from the UK smuggling opiates (which heroin is) into their country. See “Opium Wars”. Contrary to your view of the convicted man, China does not see him as “harmless”. They seem to view people smuggling drugs into their country much like we would regard someone smuggling anthrax into ours. To them, it doesn’t matter if he was crazy or not, he was still performing actions they viewed as a threat to their citizens.

Personally, I am opposed to the death penalty. However, I am also aware that have zero influence over China and that China kills drugs smugglers. There is no debate here. If you smuggle drugs into China and get caught you will almost certainly be executed.

I have been following this story, and it’s almost unbearably tragic. The guy is so deluded I can quite easily see how he could be conned. I have ex friends who were that ill that they had no grasp of reality whatsoever, and could easily have been misled in that way.

The family met with him today - he was unaware of what was to happen to him - to break the news that he was to die the next day. He was “very upset”. Their hope, in interviews, is that his delusion will lead him to think his death is a martyrdom.

I don’t believe China’s sentencing is influenced by historical memory of the Opium Wars. I believe it’s because there is no leeway in the application of sentencing, no mitigation to speak of, and that the judiciary is subservient to the state. Further to compound the Chinese view, the British government has made 27 representations for leniency and a stay of execution in this case already, and I believe this will do nothing but harden the Chinese government’s stance.

It’s an awful story, but the end has always been inevitable.

And yet you chose to post anyway. Tell me, in your haste to dismiss the question of where we in this or any other country should draw the line WRT to the death penalty, did it perchance occur to you, even in a fleeting instance, to consider that governments can learn from each other? That perhaps we might extrapolate from this case? Or is your world so cut and dried that you think all the answers are before us, and no further consideration is needed? If such is the case, then I must agree: there is no room for debate with you. Your input is noted.

I correct myself: it’s even worse, because Chinese law apparently does allow mental illness to be taken into account at sentencing.[

](http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/china_law_prof_blog/2009/12/jerome-cohen-on-the-akmal-shaikh-case.html)Broomstick, it may not matter to the Chinese government that he’s crazy, but to the Chinese judiciary, it should. (Not that I’m surprised it’s corrupt and politically influenced. But it’s still shitty.)

I don’t think governments want to listen to other governments. If anything, they get more and more defensive and dig in their decisions that much harder.

Debate? I already stated that I am opposed to the death penalty. That’s where I draw the line: it’s wrong. Period. I would be opposed even if the man was stone cold sane. The fact he is mentally ill just makes it that much more tragic.

I think someone so easily fooled into committing a crime is more dangerous than someone who decides to do it on their own. I don’t think the poor fool should be killed though.

It does, if you meet the legal definition of “insane”. Did you think the US applies the death penalty to people deemed to be “insane”?

Yes. I think the US has applied the death penalty to people (such as Jeffrey Dahmer) who could be reasonably deemed criminally insane. The fact that a jury found Jeffrey Dahmer competent to stand trial says less about his competency than the desire to put down a monster (IMO, of course. Nor do I fault them.). I think in some cases it may have been applicable. If I understand it correctly, the court draws a distinction between criminally insane and mentally incapable.

He should get life without parole. But I do think mentally ill killers and murderers (like that Texas mother who drowned her children) should be put to death for to use Mr. Heinlein’s arguments if the mentally ill cannot be cured they pose a threat and if they can be cured how can they live with their crimes?

But the fact remains that he was evaluated, and not considered insane, by the legal definition of the term. You seem to be implying that as long as you, personally, think a person is insane, then he must be. And I’m not even sure that the term “criminally insane” has a legal meaning in the US. Does it?

Not at all. Merely that I believe it likely such has occurred. I would submit that since it is impossible to obtain an accurate representation of all people put to death by the United States government or state governments, it would be difficult to assert definitively in either the positive or the negative. It is my opinion that the jury which found Dahmer competent to stand trial did so based more on emotion than fact and logic. Do you disagree?

Yes, criminally insane most certainly has meaning legally.

Morton, here’s your fork! :stuck_out_tongue:

Missed the edit window. I would add that as my home state has executed those who were deemed mentally ill, it is likely that we have executed those who fit the definition ‘insane.’

Maybe. From Amnesty International USA - The execution of mentally ill offenders

The National Association of Mental Health has estimated that five to 10 per cent of the US death row population have serious mental illness. This would be consistent, for example, with a recent study which investigated 2,005 people convicted of homicide in Sweden over a 14-year period. The researchers believe that it is the largest study to date of mental disorders in homicide offenders. It found that one in five suffered from a psychotic illness. Specifically, 8.9 per cent of the individuals had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, 2.5 per cent with bipolar disorder, and 6.5 per cent with other psychotic disorders. The study pointed out that the homicide rate in Sweden was about three times lower than in the USA and suggested that “in countries with more liberal gun laws, the proportion of mentally disordered homicide offenders may be different”. The study pointed out that earlier research in the United Kingdom and Finland had each found that six per cent of homicide offenders suffered from schizophrenia.

Don’t know. Any system set up to determine sanity is going to be subjective.

BTW, I oppose the death penalty, so I’m not arguing we should continue it. I’m just saying that we do have a system in the US to determine whether someone is “sane” enough to be punished with death. Could the system be improved? Undoutably.

Well, that’s just the legal definition of “insane”. You seemed to be using it as a different term, but maybe I just read that into your post.

This would make sense IF Jeffrey Dahmer was ever in danger of being put to death - but he wasn’t. He was convicted in Wisconsin, which has no death penalty. The strongest penalty Mr. Dahmer was ever going to receive was life without parole. Which is what he received.

Once convicted there was never any question that Dahmer was too dangerous to be allowed out on the street ever again. The only question was where he was going to spend the rest of his life: jail, or a mental hospital.

Certainly. And according to this article it is stated that very few actually fit the criteria of ‘insane.’

Indeed. Which is part of why I do not support it in its current iteration, as well as my reasoning for asking the question in the first place. We have greatly reduced the number of state executions since the inception of our country. If we are to continue them, it makes sense that the criteria for those executions be as objective and precise as possible. How do we go about doing so?

If tonight’s BBC broadcast is correct, China is responsible for 72% of all executions performed in the world with over 68 offenses listed as punishable by death. It is difficult to assert moral outrage and superiority while at the same time embracing them as economic ‘partners’ on the world stage. Do we have an ethical responsibility to apply pressure? Given our own laws on Capital Punishment, do we have that right?

I am not sure there is anything differentiating ‘insane’ from ‘criminally insane’ beyond a criminal act.