I've never been able to decide what to think about Akmal Shaikh, the British citizen facing execution in China for smuggling drugs. His defence seems to hinge on 'well, yes, he did it but he's a bit dim, you know?'
There is no denying he was carrying drugs. His defence lawyers say he can't be held responsible because of mental illness. He has bipolar disorder. The thing is, as Chinese doctors will be aware, bipolar disorder does not affect intelligence. It's a mood-swing thing, sufferers might be ecstatic one day and suicidal the next with no reference to what's happening around them. Whichever phase they're in, their intelligence is still there. I can't see why it would be a defence in this case.
It's a British thing, and a very recent one, to try to defend anyone caught in the act with a mental illness defence. It's not going to work in China. Ever. Not even the story that he went there because he's not very bright and someone convinced him he was going to be a recording star. That might be true. Such things happen to people. China might or might not accept that one, but they will not accept bipolar disorder as a defence. It doesn't make people stupid.
He's been sentenced to death. Right or wrong? I don't know. Should he be let off just because he's British? No. If you visit another country then you are subject to their laws. Which is why so many criminals come here, where the law puts them above their victims.
If it can be proved that he genuinely had no idea what he was doing, should he be let off? Not entirely. He did carry the drugs, even if he was duped into it, so should be punished for that. The death sentence is far too high for that crime but it is still a crime.
Even though there are people out there who I'd like to see strung up, and a few who should be peeled and salted first, I am not in favour of the death penalty. The law makes mistakes. Someone wrongly imprisoned can be released and compensated. Someone wrongly hanged, well, all we can do is carve 'sorry' into the gravestone. So, other than in cases where the criminal was caught in the act, and that act involved murder or rape, I'd never support a death sentence.
What strikes me as particularly horrible about this case is that everyone on the planet knows this guy has been sentenced to death, except one. Him.
He has not been told.
Imagine sitting in a cell, not knowing what's coming but perhaps confident that you'll be freed. Then you're told you've been sentenced to death and it'll happen within 24 hours. How would you feel about that? How would you feel when you find that the whole world has known about this for weeks, including the guards and everyone who visited you? You wouldn't need to be bipolar to hit a severe depression. It's not a good feeling for the last day of life.
Whether he deserves the death penalty or not, telling everyone but him that he's doomed is just nasty.
It's on humanitarian grounds, apparently.