Let's be clear about this, I am strongly oppposed to the use of capital punishment (i.e. state executions) under any circumstances. Such judicial punishments are formally prohibited in the UK and throughout the whole of the European Union and in many other countries, too.
However, the writ of the British government and of the European Union is severely limited. Other countries have quite a different view (and laws to back it up) on the whole topic of capital punishment - notably the US, Iran and China, to name three, albeit three of the better-known (not to say 'notorious') examples.
Today a British citizen has been executed in China, having been convicted of drug smuggling. The fact that he was smuggling drugs seems not to be in doubt. It is contended by those who pleaded for clemency in his case that he was 'tricked' into carrying a suitcase containing 4 kilos of heroin into China. Some trick! It is further contended that the executed man was mentally unstable and that his [undoubted] crime should be judged in the light of this. To put it crudely, we are being asked to accept that being mentally unstable should be a 'free pass' to commit crimes in other countries and not suffer the punishments that those other countries consider appropriate. Try telling that to the US (or Iran) the next time it executes someone on what we consider ill-judged grounds and see how much notice it takes!
Quite frankly the British government has enough trouble on its hands with its [perfectly deplorable] habit of trashing our own legal system and diminishing the rights of UK citizens within our own borders (things over which it actually has some control), without trying to 'lecture' other countries how they should run their own judicial systems.
Whilst I deplore today's judicial exceution of Mr Akmal Shaikh in China, I do wish the British government would use its political capital on things over which it actually can have some influence, rather than making empty gestures in matters where it succeeds only in making itself (and us) look silly and ineffectual. I refer specifically to the case of Gary McKinnon, a British citizen currently under threat of extradition to the USA and which our own Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, says he has no power to halt on medical grounds. Remind me, which British government was it who committed us to a decidely lop-sided Extradition Treaty with the US? Oh yes, our present Labour government!
Both Mr Akmal Shaikh and Mr Gary McKinnon have been said to have been (in the case of the former) and be (in the case of the latter) suffering from schizophrenia (i.e. what is I understand also known as a 'bipolar disorder') - see (*) below. So it is OK to send Mr McKinnon across the Atlantic to the [not always so very] tender mercies of the US judicial system, because the US is supposedly a fellow-democracy, albeit the country that permitted Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib to happen (with its use of 'water torture' and other, to put it brutally frankly, crimes against humanity), but not OK for a sovereign country such as China, which happens not to conform to our 'prissy' notions of democracy, to follow its own judicial path?
Or what about our oh-so-ethical British government that allowed our knee-jerk unequal Extradition Treaty with the US, supposedly designed to help reduce the risk of terrorism, to be subverted by using it to allow US authorities to pursue British citizens whose only 'crime' (if it is ever judged as such) was against a British company in Britain? I refer of course to the 'NatWest three' who were extradited some time ago to the US on frankly spurious charges (so far as the US is concerned) seemingly with the sole aim of using pressure upon them to get them to implicate others.
Basically we have a British government that makes loud noises about protecting British citizens' rights in situations which it cannot alter, but singularly fails to protect the rights of British citizens when it has the power to do so. And we wonder why some Chinese refer to Britain as a 'paper tiger', or why Britain has today been told by Iran's government that it will have its 'cheeks boxed' if it doesn't shut up?
Why does our current British government even bother? It has, quite frankly, not the faintest notion of what conducting an effective dipolmatic policy entails and its notions of an 'ethical foreign policy' make me want to retch! If the actions of our present Labour government did not make us all, in Britain, look so silly and pathetic I could laugh if it concerned some other poorly-governed country, rather than our own - as it is, all I want to do is have a drink to deaden the horror of being led by such donkeys!
Now to calm myself down after my rather too habitual (of late) 'ranting' against our ineffectual shambles of a Government, may I just remind my fellow British citizens that the ability of our government to protect us when we are abroad is very strictly limited; we no longer live in an era when 'gunboat diplomacy' will be used to rescue us when we do, or are accused of doing, something wrong according to another country. I've visited and lived in a number of coutries which have very different notions to us on matters of crime and justice, including both China and (just to take a couple of other random examples) Malaysia and Thailand. I vividly recall the landing form I had to complete the first time I visited Kuala Lumpur and which bore a red-printed warning about the punishment for 'drug-trafficking' being death; I knew about this beforehand, so I wasn't surprised, but it still came as something of a shock to see it in print. The definition of 'trafficking' was for amounts in excess of 50 grams, if I recall correctly, just as in China. Four kilograms is eighty times greater than that!
Put simply, if you can't do the time (or suffer the consequences, however unfair we may consider them to be) don't do the crime! It really is that simple. Otherwise stay at home.
(*) - a commenter has kindly corrected what I wrote about the mental disorder from which the executed man was said to have suffered; the commenter writes "No. Bipolar is what used to be known as manic depression. Schizophrenia is a level of mania well beyond." However, I do not believe this affects the basic premise of my article.