Death penalty Brits: Remember Akmal?

akmalTHEY say it could take years for the legal appeals from Lindsay Sandiford, the Briton caught with bag loads of cocaine in Bali and sentenced to the death penalty this week, to be considered. There is then, you would hope, time and space for some positive negotiation given the prosecution itself had only called for a sentence of fifteen years in jail.

It is interesting to see how the case ran straight into the public consciousness from the moment of her arrest and that bizarre police press conference where the arrested woman is sat, before even appearing in a courtroom, at a table in an orange jumpsuit while the packages of drugs are plonked high in front of her. Her story was strong on news bulletins across the networks yesterday and the government were speedy to say what it thought.

This contrasts with the case of Akmal Shaikh – remember him? – the former manager at Teksi cabs in Kentish Town who was executed in China in 2009. His story was as confusing as Sandiford’s in the sense that both leave you asking to yourself: why would you get involved in that? Like Sandiford, Shaikh’s defence was that he had cajoled and threatened by gangsters and to some degree was suffering from mental ill health. It didn’t take too much deduction that Akmal was suffering from something. The evidence was on the web: a simply awful music single about a rabbit which he thought was going to make him a worldwide star. It’s fair to assume somebody somewhere saw his vulnerability.

Hardly anybody noticed his plight – yup, including his old local paper – until his trial had been through virtually the entire judicial process and appeals had been used up. Reprieve, to whom it always seems to falls to try and rescue the situation, did their best to get some media attention. This led to a rash of clicktivism where his story appalled the sympathetic for about two minutes and they proved essentially powerless to do more than clicking on a petition, joining the right Facebook group, adding a Save Akmal twibbon to their Twitter profiles and then letting his story drift into the history books. There was no mass sit in outside the Chinese embassy in Portland Place. A little handful of protesters were as the hours ticked down to his lethal injection and diplomacy from high ranked politicians was replaced with desperate begging from protesters in the rain outside. It didn’t work.

Sandiford might be more fortunate, especially if our government is making public protestations from an early start and with years of appeals ahead. Mindful of Chinese pride and sought global stature, the UK trod more carefully while Shaikh sat on death row and only really dared to go public in the final moments.

It will be interesting to see whether Sandiford, a white grandmother from the north east, gets the same treatment as an Asian British man from Camden got, whether she receives more forthright help from British politicians and whether the harsher columnists from the national newspapers who welcomed the death penalty for Shaikh will be more sympathetic this time around. 

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