Earlier this week Akmal Shaikh, from London, was executed in China after being convicted of drug smuggling, 4kg of heroin to be precise. This was easily enough to qualify him for the death penalty, a punishment given out in China for even non-violent crimes such as tax fraud. Repeated calls for clemency were made by the UK government and Akmal Shaikh’s family, the crux of the argument being that he was mentally ill and should not suffer the same punishment as a person who is of “sound mind”.
However right the UK government has been in protesting against the execution, I feel they have missed the point. Even if Mr. Shaikh had been of completely sound judgement, he should not face such ludicrously harsh treatment for something as banal as drug smuggling. The transportation of drugs is a cultural crime. There is nothing morally wrong with taking drugs, nor their transportation. Who exactly is harmed by moving a opiate from one place to another?
The anti-drugs lobby, as well as Chinese authorities, protest that the heroin he was bringing into the country would kill and ruin lives. This might be true, but then again it might not. There are too many variables at work, and those variables are in the hands of others, not he. His “crime” was transporting a drug.
Others may say that drug-smuggling is also illegal in the UK, so we cannot blame the Chinese authorities for punishing him as we would, just in their own way. Yes this is true, and there are those of us that want the law reformed within our own boarders too.
The objection China has to drugs is a cultural one rather than a logical one, and our citizens should not face drastic penalties at the hands of irrational cultural prejudice. Imagine a British women, whilst visiting a deeply religious country, was sentenced to death for not wearing the correct head-ware that particular culture dictates. Whilst we would apologise for offence caused we would simply not allow the punishment to take place, because we act rationally enough to know that killing someone because of something as benign as putting a cloth on your head is utterly moronic. We should be able to take the same stance over drugs, but unlike with religion, at home we are still far from acting rationally when it comes to recreational drugs, and this prevents our intervention.
This ridiculous war on drugs is causing many casualties. Some are users shooting up on heroin mixed with fertilizer. Others are poor vulnerables like Akmal Shaikh. But the biggest casualty has been reason, and our dignity in the face of a barbaric nation whom we are impotent to criticise because of our own shameful failings.