Abdulmateen when his death sentence was announced on April 21, 2022. Image credit: Ningbo Intermediate People’s Court

SAN FRANCISCO (September 26, 2022)   Shadeed Abdulmateen, a US citizen, was sentenced to death by the Ningbo Intermediate People’s Court on April 21, 2022. He was convicted of murdering a young Chinese woman, Chen Shijun, with whom he had had a romantic relationship.

Mr. Abdulmateen’s appeal was rejected by the Zhejiang High People’s Court on August 25, 2022. The case has been submitted to the Supreme People’s Court (SPC), which reviews all death sentences in China.

The SPC has three options: 1) It can reduce the sentence to death with two-year reprieve or a fixed-term sentence; 2) It can return the case to a court in Zhejiang; 3) It can uphold the sentence and order Mr. Abdulmateen’s execution. In Zhejiang, executions are carried out by gunshot or lethal injection.

If the SPC upholds the sentence and Mr. Abdulmateen is executed, he would likely be the first US citizen executed in China since the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949.

Mr. Abdulmateen is African American and originally from Southern California. According to his self-introduction video posted on an unverified YouTube channel, he was born in the 1960s. A graduate of the University of Phoenix, he taught English at Ningbo University of Technology prior to his arrest for murdering Ms. Chen. Prior to the murder of Chen Shijun, Mr. Abdulmateen was married to a Chinese woman. They were subsequently divorced. The murder is thought to have occurred after Ms. Chen, in her early 20s at the time according to several sources, ended her relationship with Mr. Abdulmateen.

“Abdulmateen” is an Arabic name, but it is not known if Shadeed Abulmateen is a practicing Muslim.

On August 20, 2021, Mr. Abdulmateen was indicted by the Ningbo People’s Procuratorate on charges of intentional homicide, with the Ningbo Intermediate People’s Court hearing the case on November 25 of the same year. On April 21, 2022, the court sentenced Abdulmateen to death, with the sentence being upheld by the Zhejiang High People’s Court in August.

Consular officers from the Shanghai Consulate attended Mr. Abdulmateen’s trials. The Department of State has not issued a statement calling for clemency. Nor has any other American official, including President Joe Biden.

John Kamm, executive director of the Dui Hua Foundation and long-time opponent of the death penalty, is calling for clemency. “Coming at a fraught time in US-China relations, Mr. Abdulmateen’s execution would contribute to the downward spiral of the relationship.”

Although Mr. Abdulmateen is the only US citizen known to be on death row, scores of other foreign nationals have been sentenced to death and are awaiting SPC review. These include at least four Canadian citizens. The last high-profile execution of a foreign national was British citizen Akmal Shaikh in December 2009. Then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown appealed to Hu Jintao on 12 occasions to stay the execution, to no avail.

President Biden is on record opposing the death penalty, as are leading American political leaders like Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ). Both Biden and Smith are Roman Catholics. The Church adamantly opposes the death penalty. Last month, Pope Francis renewed his calls for the abolition of the death penalty.

Dui Hua estimates that around 2000 executions take place in China every year. “This is probably on the low side,” said Kamm.

According to Amnesty International, 2021 saw a 20 percent rise in the use of capital punishment from 2020, with 579 executions recorded in 18 countries. Eleven executions took place in the United States.