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15 Jan, 2010 07:24

UK extradition policies spark debate

The recent execution of drug smuggler and British resident Akhmal Shaikh in China has created a media furor in the UK.

Human rights campaigners and politicians have accused the Chinese of not taking into account Shaikh’s mental health when convicting him of smuggling four kilos of heroine into China. Even though Shaikh was mentally unstable, he was put to death by lethal injection last month.

This week, China pulled out of bilateral talks with the UK on human rights, a move widely believed to be in response to the British government’s pressure over the execution of Shaikh. But many question why the UK is so keen to jump in and criticize China on human rights, while it seems to be lot more reluctant to criticize the US when it comes to extraditions of British citizens and their treatment by the American justice system, in which the death penalty is still central.

The US is one of only a handful of countries that executes the mentally ill. It abolished the execution of children as recently as 2005 and still subjects some convicted youths to life imprisonment without parole. Think tanks point to how the US also houses children in adult jails, uses what it calls “enhanced interrogation methods” and keeps prisoners in prolonged isolation in super maximum security jails. Chatham House, a London-based think tank, says these negatives go unchallenged.

“We regard the United States and other European countries as having democratic systems with multi party opportunities allowing for political competition,” says Dr. Kerry Brown, Senior Fellow of the Asia Program at Chatham House. “China is one of the world’s four remaining countries with one party and a communist system.”

Janis Sharp, the mother of Gary McKinnon, the autistic British hacker who faces imminent extradition to the US to answer charges of breaking into Pentagon computers, thinks the execution of Shaikh was deplorable, but cannot understand why the British government will not appeal to the US to help her son.

“How can they demand that China should do this, when they won’t even go to our ally President Obama, and ask ‘can you please cancel this extradition.’ This is wrong. What’s happening is wrong,” says Mckinnon’s mother.

She says that according to medical reports by top experts in the world, Gary will undoubtedly commit suicide if extradited.

Former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg was held in illegal US detention centers for more than two years before being released without charge. He says there has been no improvement in the US justice system since the change of administration.

“Obama has ordered 30,000 extra troops into Afghanistan. That means for me, as a former prisoner, more people in the Baghram detention facility where I was held for 11 months, and that means there’s more likelihood of torture,” Begg predicts. “There is also the fact of proxy detention where the US has colluded or ordered many individuals to be held in countries that are new partners in the war on terror.”

During his detention, Begg witnessed a man being beaten to death and was forced to listen to a screaming woman, who he was led to believe was his wife, being tortured.

The disagreement between the UK and China over Akhmal Shaikh’s execution has jeopardized a dialogue on human rights that’s been in place since 1997. But there’s no dialogue with the US, which for many, smacks of hypocrisy.