Akmal Shaikh (5 April 1956 – 29 December 2009) was a Pakistani-British businessman who was convicted and executed in China for illegally trafficking approximately 4 kg of heroin.
The trial and execution attracted significant media attention in the UK.
Shaikh was born in Pakistan and moved to the United Kingdom as a child.
After a couple of failed businesses, Shaikh moved to Poland with his second wife in 2005 with the dream of starting an airline, and later of becoming a pop star.
He travelled from Poland to China and was arrested by Chinese customs officers at Ürümqi Diwopu International Airport on 12 September 2007 with 4 kilograms (8.818 lb) of heroin hidden in a compartment in his baggage.
Shaikh's defence team pleaded ignorance of the existence of the drugs, although his lawyers said that the evidence against Shaikh was "overwhelming".
Reprieve, an anti-death penalty organisation, argued that Shaikh suffered from mental illness which was exploited by criminals who tricked him into transporting the heroin on the promise of a recording contract.Shaikh, who had never been assessed by mental health experts, denied he was mentally ill.
He had requested a psychiatric evaluation to prove he was sane, but the requests were refused by Chinese authorities on the grounds that PRC laws required defendants to first provide past medical records showing evidence of a mental disorder before such evaluations could be undertaken.
Appeals for clemency were made by his family and by British government officials.
After two appeals, the Supreme Court confirmed the death sentence he was given at his first trial in October 2008, and Shaikh was executed by lethal injection in Ürümqi on 29 December 2009.
It was reported that Shaikh was the first person with citizenship of a European country to be executed in China since Antonio Riva in 1951.
Lau Fat-wai, a Portuguese citizen, also faced drug trafficking charges back in 2006, before Akmal Shaikh, but Mr.
Lau's death sentence was only carried out early in 2013.Britain made 27 official representations to the Chinese government; the Chinese ambassador to London was summoned twice to meet British Foreign Office ministers, once after the execution.
Senior British politicians strongly condemned the execution, and were disappointed that clemency was not granted, while human rights groups and some Western legal experts in Chinese law criticised the lack of due process; United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston said the refusal to assess Shaikh's mental health was a violation of international law.
The Chinese embassy in Britain said Shaikh had no "previous medical record" of mental illness and that his "rights and interests were properly respected and guaranteed".
It said the Chinese stance underlined the "strong resentment" felt by its public to drug traffickers, in part based on "the bitter memory of history" – a reference to the First and Second Opium Wars.
A professor of criminal law at the East China University of Political Science and Law said the administration of the death penalty related to a country's history, culture and other conditions: "It's human nature to plead for a criminal who is from the same country or the same family, but judicial independence should be fully respected and everyone should be equal before the law."