China's shameful execution poses new challenges

Beijing continues to regard human rights with contempt

The shameful execution of Akmal Shaikh by China puts ministers and human rights groups in uncharted territory. The world's greatest user of capital punishment had not executed a European citizen since 1951. Attempting to win over a government that, unlike the United States, does not regard human rights as a legitimate concept represented a formidable challenge for all involved.

As did attempting to engage with a judicial system that remains cloaked in secrecy. So opaque is Chinese justice that it remains unclear whether Shaikh was killed by lethal injection or by firing squad.

Some bloggers have suggested that the British government did not do enough to persuade China to grant clemency. Iain Dale writes: "I am sorry, but Ivan Lewis is not a name to strike fear into the hearts of the Chinese government." That may be so, but we do know that Britain made 27 representations to China over the case and that Gordon Brown personally raised the case with Wen Jiabao.

Meanwhile, in an extraordinary intervention, Leo McKinstry, writing in the Daily Mail, favourably contrasts Beijing's "tough action" with Britain's "enfeebled" approach to drug smuggling.

He writes:

In contrast to New Labour's policy of appeasement and surrender, the Chinese government acts vigorously to defend its people from the misery caused by the drugs trade.

My regret is not over tough action by Beijing, but the fact that we in this country do not possess the moral clarity or strength of purpose to deal ruthlessly with drug peddlers [sic] and other enemies of our society.

He dismisses the evidence that Shaikh's apparent mental illness allowed him to be duped into smuggling heroin as "excuse-making". I won't pretend, and few should, to have the knowledge required to make a medical as well as a moral judgement on the case. But in his medical report on Shaikh, Dr Peter Schaapveld, a London-based clinical and forensic psychologist, concluded with "99 per cent certainty" that he was either bipolar or schizophrenic.

Combined with the standard arguments against the death penalty, such evidence represented an unassailable case for a stay of execution.

Gordon Brown and David Cameron deserve credit for unambiguously condemning China's behaviour in their respective statements this morning. Let us hope they will not be given cause to do so again.


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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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For the first time in my life I have a sworn enemy – and I don’t even know her name

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

Last month, I made an enemy. I do not say this lightly, and I certainly don’t say it with pride, as a more aggressive male might. Throughout my life I have avoided confrontation with a scrupulousness that an unkind observer would call out-and-out cowardice. A waiter could bring the wrong order, cold and crawling with maggots, and in response to “How is everything?” I’d still manage a grin and a “lovely, thanks”.

On the Underground, I’m so wary of being a bad citizen that I often give up my seat to people who aren’t pregnant, aren’t significantly older than me, and in some cases are far better equipped to stand than I am. If there’s one thing I am not, it’s any sort of provocateur. And yet now this: a feud.

And I don’t even know my enemy’s name.

She was on a bike when I accidentally entered her life. I was pushing a buggy and I wandered – rashly, in her view – into her path. There’s little doubt that I was to blame: walking on the road while in charge of a minor is not something encouraged by the Highway Code. In my defence, it was a quiet, suburban street; the cyclist was the only vehicle of any kind; and I was half a street’s length away from physically colliding with her. It was the misjudgment of a sleep-deprived parent rather than an act of malice.

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

I was stung by what someone on The Apprentice might refer to as her negative feedback, and walked on with a redoubled sense of the parental inadequacy that is my default state even at the best of times.

A sad little incident, but a one-off, you would think. Only a week later, though, I was walking in a different part of town, this time without the toddler and engrossed in my phone. Again, I accept my culpability in crossing the road without paying due attention; again, I have to point out that it was only a “close shave” in the sense that meteorites are sometimes reported to have “narrowly missed crashing into the Earth” by 50,000 miles. It might have merited, at worst, a reproving ting of the bell. Instead came a familiar voice. “IT’S YOU AGAIN!” she yelled, wrathfully.

This time the shock brought a retort out of me, probably the harshest thing I have ever shouted at a stranger: “WHY ARE YOU SO UNPLEASANT?”

None of this is X-rated stuff, but it adds up to what I can only call a vendetta – something I never expected to pick up on the way to Waitrose. So I am writing this, as much as anything, in the spirit of rapprochement. I really believe that our third meeting, whenever it comes, can be a much happier affair. People can change. Who knows: maybe I’ll even be walking on the pavement

Mark Watson is a stand-up comedian and novelist. His most recent book, Crap at the Environment, follows his own efforts to halve his carbon footprint over one year.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood