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1969: Equatorial Guinea’s Christmas Eve executions

December 24th, 2017 Headsman

A story from the 1970s Equatorial Guinea dictatorship of eventual Executed Today client Francisco Macias Nguema, via Suzanne Cronj√©’s out-of-print 1976 volume Equatorial Guinea, the forgotten dictatorship: forced labour and political murder in central Africa.

a first batch of murderers were unskilfully hanged at Bata on the mainland early in December while another group met their end in Fernando Po [the island also known as Bioko, home to Equatorial Guinea’s capital city Malabo -ed.] on Christmas Eve. After a kind of public trial before most of the Cabinet in which assembled population was asked to endorse the verdict, they were shot or hanged to the strains of Mary Hopkin singing ‘Those were the days’ over the loudspeaker system.

The Headsman must admit to being flummoxed at the slipperiness of dependable primary sourcing for this extraordinarily picturesque event: as Cronje’s source notes, “the government probably only gets away with them because so little ever gets out about its doings.”

Many sites around this Internet situate the event on Christmas Eve of 1975. This appears to me unambiguously mistaken; Cronje’s narrative quotes its information from a February 1970 Financial Times report, and the Mary Hopkin detail also better fits the earlier date. (Her song was a hit in 1968.) However, it’s possible that distinct seasonal events were conflated between the years, for the 1970s were years of terrifying purges in Equatorial Guinea that claimed tens of thousands of lives.

Christmas Eve 1969 is also the date reported by Randall Fegley in Equatorial Guinea: An African Tragedy (1989) although in Fegley’s telling the nostalgic soundtrack accompanied that ugly early December execution, not the one on Christmas eve. Wikipedia’s entry for Macias Nguema asserts as of this writing that the shootings were carried out by executioners dressed as Santa Claus; the only hint of textual authority I have located for this outlandish detail points to a 1981 Human Rights Quarterly article by Fegley which I cannot access. (Update: In fact, Fegley’s article makes no claim about Saint Nick getup. Thanks to cz for the comment.)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Equatorial Guinea,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Public Executions,Shot

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3 thoughts on “1969: Equatorial Guinea’s Christmas Eve executions”

  1. The christmas eve executions were mentioned in a September 1979 New York Times article on the fall of Bokassa in CAR and mentioned Nguema Macie, who was also deposed that year, that said the executions “occured a year after his election (1968) he hanged a score of his enemies in a public square while loudspeakers blared “those were the days”. Nothing about Santa Claus.

  2. cz says:

    The article in Human Rights Quarterly doesn’t mention that “outlandish detail”. Rather it says:

    “The list of dead continued to mount. One Christmas eve, 150 political prisoners were lined up in a stadium and shot while the loudspeakers played music for the spectators. Thirty-six others were buried in the ground to their necks and left to be eaten by red ants.”

    (article retrieved using sci-hub: http://sci-hub.la/10.2307/762065)

    1. Headsman says:

      thank you very much for that, and for the new-to-me resource. i guess the footnote in the article i linked meant to document the 150; the santa claus detail unsurprisingly seems like a storytelling flourish somebody invented which now echoes uninterrogated through a thousand retellings…

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