Among the numerous ethnicities subject to rough treatment in Iran are Ahwazi Arabs, a minority concentrated in oil-rich Khuzestan, right on the border with southern Iraq. It was one of the bloodiest theaters of the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980’s.
Heady days for the dirty war unleashed by America’s Iraq invasion. Iranian officials slated the “treacherous and criminal Britain” (occupying the adjacent region of Iraq) for backing the Ahvaz bombings. Confessions to that effect extracted from today’s two principals were broadcast the evening before their execution.
-Major Wiktor Herer, a superior officer at the Office of Public Security, to a prisoner, 1948 (from this cheerful pdf, The Dialects of Pain)
As World War II wrapped up with a rousing Soviet victory on the eastern front, the Red Army and NKVD segued from fighting the Wehrmacht to fighting anti-communist Polish partisans.
The casualties of this massively imbalanced conflict were Poland’s doomed “cursed soldiers”, who carried on a hopeless resistance to Communist power for many years. We’ve met their Warsaw Pact analogueselsewhere in the forests of Russia’s Cold War satellites.
Lukasz Cieplinski; he was the head of WiN in 1947.
And on this date sixty years ago, seven of those Poles were shot at Mokotow Prison — one of the more notorious atrocities of those grim years. They were:
All were members of Wolnosc i Niezawislosc (“Freedom and Independence”), an anti-communist underground formed after World War II; our principals today had been rounded up in 1947-48 and consequently had a good three years or so to enjoy the famous hospitality of their captors.
I even sat on an electric chair with some sort of an apparatus. They attached clamps to my hand and ear. Once they turned it on, blood flowed from every crevice in my body … They also pumped water into me. They suspended me upside down from a beam attached to the ceiling. They gagged my mouth and dunked my face in a bucket full of water. And I would freeze. They told me only to give them a sign that I had hidden weapons. When I did, they freed me and told me to sign my confession. I’d tear them up. So they continued to torture me. They poured kerosene into my brother’s bucket [before they dunked his head in]. In comparison to that the beating all over one’s body was pleasure.
Though some people managed to withstand the torture, quite naturally many broke down and confessed to whatever was proffered and implicated whomever was targeted. Very often, those confessions would lead straight to a capital conviction.
On the strength of such evidence, this date’s harvest, many of them already suffering crippling injuries from their interrogation, received a show trial in October 1950 with no real defense. They were shot one by one several minutes apart on the evening of this date by prolific Polish executioner Piotr Smietanski.
This site maintains a more thorough (and pro-WiN) history of the movement, including many photographs.
Hassan bin Awad al-Zubair, a Sudanese national, was not fortunate enough to have a television audience and months of publicity. Amnesty International thinks that neither he nor his family was even aware that he was death-sentenced until that sentence was actually executed.
The Saudi Interior Ministry statement on this surprise beheading explained that he had asserted the power to heal the sick and “separate married couples.” (Maybe he should have been a television personality after all.)
On this date in history, Anne Line was hanged for harboring Catholic priests in Elizabethan England.
There’s not too much question of her “guilt.”
I am sentenced to die for harbouring a Catholic priest, and so far I am from repenting for having so done, that I wish, with all my soul, that where I have entertained one, I could have entertained a thousand.
-Anne Line at the scaffold
She’d been disinherited from her Calvinist family for converting to Catholicism, and scratched out a living teaching and embroidering and keeping safe houses for forbidden Catholic clergy.
That house was raided in early February of 1601, and while the priest escaped, Anne Line did not.
It was perhaps on this date, that the prophet Mani — he of Manichaeism — underwent his Passion at the hands of the Sassanid Empire in a Gundeshapur prison.
The actual date of this event is an Aramaic (lunar) date whose year is unrecorded, so it attaches only uncertainly to the Julian calendar. (2 March 274 is another possibility, as are other dates in the mid-270s.)
Perhaps more to the point for this blog is that Mani’s “crucifixion” as celebrated by his followers was a literary exultation: the 60-year-old died in prison after 26 days in chains, maybe even sooner than his captors had intended. After Mani “rose [from his body] to the residences of his greatness [in] the heights, and he met his shape,” the Sassanids decapitated the corpse to make the whole scene more properly resemble the awful majesty of an offended sovereign.
But even as merely a metaphorical “execution,” Mani’s martyrdom merits mention.
Born into a Judaic-Christian sect, Mani (also known as Manes) experienced a conversion, went east for enlightenment, and returned with a syncretic theology of a good spirit world and an evil material one — and east-meets-west twist, in other words, on gnosticism, rooted in both Christianity and Buddhism. (And Zoroastrianism, dominant in Persia at this time — to Mani’s ultimate grief.)
This seems like the sort of thing that someone ought to have revived in California in the 1970’s.
The man wrote his own holy book, after all, and it’s a bit more elegant than the likes of neoconservative foreign policy.
the first precept for hearers is this: …they shall not kill …, [and] they shall forgive those creatures who provide them with meat for food so that they do not kill them as if they were evil people. But dead flesh of any animals, wherever they obtain it, be it dead or slaughtered, they may eat …
And the second precept for hearers is that they shall not be false and they shall not be unjust to one another … he shall walk in truth. And a hearer shall love [another] hearer in the same way one loves one’s own brother and relatives, for they are children of the living family and the world of light.
And the third precept is that they shall not slander anybody and not be false witnesses against anybody of what they have not seen and not make an oath in falsehood in any matter …
Manichaeism found favor (though not a conversion) with the broad-minded and long-reigning king Shapur I. (Shapur is most famous in the West as the Persian ruler who captured the Roman emperor Valerian.)
It seems they were able to make use of the prophet’s distaste for war to question his patriotism. Some things never change.
The founder’s laying down his life hardly slowed the faith’s growth; instead, it prospered as one of the more successful entrants in the confusing late-antiquity hustle and bustle of competing cults. Dualism was a hot mystical trend literally from ocean to ocean, and nobody proselytized it like Mani’s followers.
Had it stayed that way, there’d be endowed chairs of Manichean gnosticism at every university and politicians conspicuously rubbing shoulders with Manichean clergy and Major League sluggers with WWMD bracelets. Instead, it’s a metonym for naivete. Them’s the breaks.
In the West, at least, the lost sect’s unflattering reputation comes by way of no less a personage than St. Augustine of Hippo.
You know what they say about the zeal of converts? Well, Augustine used to know Manichaeism from the inside.
St. Augustine Sacrificing to a Manichaean Idol, 15th century painting by an unknown Flemish master.
After spending his twenties as an enthusiastic Manichean, the future Church Father (re)converted to orthodox* Christianity and turned on his former philosophy with vehemence.
His Confessions denounces a Manichean bishop with whom he once had an unsatisfying audience — “Faustus by name, a great snare of the devil.” That association might very well be the etymological root of that great literary devil-bargainer Dr. Faust.
One could, at the minimum, follow a thread from Augustine’s establishment anti-dualism to the Middle Ages practice of calling any dualistic heresy — Bogomilism, Catharism, whatever — “Manichean”, and the intertwining of those forbidden gnostic traditions with Christendom’s devil mythology.
Medieval image of St. Augustine confounding devilish heresies.
At the same time, Augustine’s philosophy draws much of its enduring appeal from that very dualism, absorbed at such a formative age that the writer late into life was still repelling Christian colleagues’ accusations of immutable Manichaeism — “like an Ethiopian can not change his skin, nor the leopard his spots.” Augustine’s City of God proceeds from opposing that virtuous spiritual metropolis to the corruption of the City of Man.**
Nowhere in the early church before 400 does there appear to be such a tender and appealing piety, along with such a prominent place given to the Christ, except for Augustine and the Manichaean writings … In some essential features of Augustine’s spirituality we may perceive one of the most important channels through which the Gnostic religion of Manichaeism has exercised a lasting influence on western culture.
* Manichaeism, at least in the North African context where Augustine engaged it, is probably best thought of as one of the competing strands within the Christian community rather than a rival religious edifice. (Gnosticism’s capacity to syncretize with varying spiritual traditions has always been essential to its appeal.) Manicheans themselves insisted that they were secta, within Christianity, not schisma, like the pagans.
** Augustine had particular cause to be down on the prospects of the City of Man: at the time of writing, Rome had just been sacked by the Visigoths.
We doubt this entry can stack up to the one preceding for melodrama, but not every rebel on the gallows can be a peer of the realm or a guardian of the chalice of Christ. Big names get the big headlines, but other folk make up their smaller fame by their greater volume.
From the interesting Lancashire Memorials of the Rebellion, we learn of the unhappy fate of several dozen Jacobite rebels in a chapter titled, “The Prisoners Tried at Liverpool, and Their Sentences.”
At the beginning of January 1716, the Government sent down a commission of Oyer and Terminer, to try the prisoners who had been distributed in the various prisons of Lancaster, Chester, and Liverpool. As Liverpool had the reputation of being in the Whig interest [i.e., the Hanoverian, anti-Jacobite party], having sent to Parliament two Members of this party, it was conceived expedient, that the trials of so many rebels, which, under the most favourable circumstances, could not fail to have caused much factious excitement and sensation, should take place in a town, more devoted to the Whig cause than any other in Lancashire.
The judges appointed for the trial were Mr. Baron Burry, Mr. Justice Eyre, and Mr. Baron Montague, who, on the 4th of January, set out, with all their attendants, from London. For the sake of making an impression upon the country, they travelled leisurely through all the towns upon the route, so as to occupy seven days on the journey. On the 11th of the same month, they arrived at Liverpool.
Upon the day following, January 12th, the judges opened their commission; the Grand Jury were summoned, and the court sat. There had been Commissioners previously appointed to take precognitions of such as were made witnesses in reference to the fact of rebellion at Preston; which, having been laid before the Grand Jury, bills of indictment were found against 48 of the prisoners.
Copies of the Indictments were then given to the persons against whom the bills were found, and the court was adjourned for eight days, in order to afford the prisoners legal time to prepare their defense …
n the 20th of January the Court again sat, between which date and that of the 9th of February following, it is said that 74 persons were tried.
Thirty-four of these wretches drew death sentences, which were meted out in a sort of traveling road show in the realm’s northern reaches to make sure everybody got the message.
That show’s closing performance was on this date.
Liverpool, Feb. 25th. — The circuit of the Hangmen here ended.On this day suffered Mr. Burnett of Carlops, a most active gentleman in the Rebellion, along with Alexander Drummond, and two Northumberland gentlemen, viz., George Collingwood and John Hunter.
In the High Sheriff’s account is the following item: “Feb. 25. Charge of executing Bennet” [Burnet] “and three more at Leverpoole, £10, 3s.”
They were the fruit of Parliament’s impeachment of Jacobite leaders. Six of these fellows threw themselves upon the mercy of the Commons, and were rewarded with a death sentence by William Cowper. Only half managed to wrangle mercy from the crown.
On the eve of this date’s execution, Lord Nithsdale received a visitation of his wife, Winifred … who helped him swap clothes with one of her maids, in which garb he audaciously marched out the Tower gates in the train of his spouse.
The king whom Nithsdale had purposed to dethrone was a good sport about it. “It was the best thing a man in his condition could have done,” he declared.
The fugitives managed to cross the channel — that required another bit of dress-up, in the livery of the Venetian ambassador — and absconded to Rome. William Maxwell, Lord Nithsdale, outlived his appointment with the headsman by 28 years.
They are gone — who shall follow? — their ship’s on the brine,
And they sail unpursued to a far friendly shore,
Where love and content at their hearth may entwine,
And the warfare of kingdoms divide them no more.
Her reputation as a romantic heroine (only enhanced by the romantic futility of the Jacobite struggle itself) has lent itself to all manner of literary expropriation, like this 19th century historical novel.
All very well for these two lovebirds. But the remaining 67% of the day’s scaffold carrion did not escape the Tower in women’s clothing, or men’s, and paid with their heads as scheduled.
Derwentwater went out with a peevish scaffold speech asking “pardon of those whom I might have scandalized by pleading guilty at my trial” because he had been misled into believing the plea was “but the consequence of having submitted to mercy.”
On or about this day in 1629, one John Dean, described in court documents as “an infant between eight and nine years,” was hanged in Abingdon, England for setting fire to two barns in the nearby town of Windsor.
According to Historia placitorum corone: The history of the pleas of the crown, Volume 1 by William Axton Stokes and Edward Ingersoll, this juvenile felon was indicted, arraigned and found guilty all on the same day, February 23, “and was hanged accordingly.” The actual date of his execution is not known, but it can’t have been long afterward. The wheels of British justice ground very quickly in those days, though not so fine.
The age of criminal responsibility in England at the time was seven years old. (It was later raised to eight, and in 1963 to ten, where it remains; there have been calls to raise it again.) Accordingly, anyone seven years or older could be charged with a crime and face the same penalties as someone seventeen or forty-seven — including the death sentence.
This does not mean that vast numbers of children were executed, however; quite the contrary. As Capital Punishment U.K. notes, “Death sentences were certainly routinely passed on 7 -13 year olds but equally routinely commuted. Girls were only typically hanged for the most serious crimes whereas teenage boys were executed for a wide range of felonies.”
The same source notes that little John Dean was probably the youngest child ever executed in England.
For reasons lost to history, he was not given the usual commutation: although there is no mention that anyone was hurt or killed in the fires, the judge found that John had “malice, revenge, craft and cunning,” and refused to recommend a reprieve. Perhaps the boy had a prior criminal record.
Thus did John Dean secure a footnote in history; were it not for his death no one would remember him today. Somehow, I doubt he would have thought it was worth it.
It was on this date that notoriously corrupt Chinese minister of state Heshen or Ho-Shen was forced to commit suicide in lieu of execution.
The able child of a Manchu military officer, Heshen came of age in the long reign of the emperor Qianlong.
That Heshen rose above his modest station with this monarch’s favor was the source of no small resentment. Rumors circulated that the attractive young former bodyguard reminded the emperor of a lost, beloved concubine — with all that implies.
“Elegant in looks, sprucely handsome in a dandified way that suggested a lack of virtue,” a Korean diplomat described Heshen.
Whatever there might have been to the homosexuality angle, Heshen exploited the imperial protection to gorge himself on the state’s revenues; he’s reported to have filled the bureaucracy with clients who saw to it that Heshen got a yuan out of every tael that passed through state business in the last quarter of the 18th century. He even dynastically married his own son to one of Qianlong’s daughters.
It was the peak of the Qing dynasty’s glory, and the dawn of its imperial stagnation. Heshen — resplendent, omnipotent, and sunk in vice* — remains to this day its persona par excellence.
As long as the emperor lived, Heshen had a virtual free hand.
But as soon as the emperor died — on February 7, 1799, at the age of 87 — the successor** Jiaqing destroyed him.
Citing Heshen’s inability to suppress the nettlesome White Lotus and Miao rebellions, Jiaqing arrested and tortured the former retainer into copping to all manner of offenses both mortal and venial.
My thoughts dwell ever on the Confucian precept: ‘For three years after a parent’s death none of his former surroundings should be changed.’ …
But as regards Ho Shen, his crimes are too grave to admit of possible pardon … Ho Shen is a deep-dyed traitor, lost to all moral sense, who has betrayed his Sovereign and jeopardised the State. As self-constituted dictator he has usurped supreme authority.
Seeing the man’s abrupt change of fortunes, Heshen’s people in the bureaucracy fell over each other to denounce him.
He was condemned to the horrific expiation of “slow slicing”; however, given “the undesirability of executing the chief Minister of State like a common felon in the public square,” Jiaqing “allowed him the privilege of committing suicide, as a mark of high favour and out of regard to the dignity of the nation.”
A principal accomplice was made to witness Heshen ceremonially hanging himself; then the accomplice was reprieved of his own death sentence and sent into exile.
The new sovereign found his nation’s dignity sufficiently upheld by the doomed man’s melancholy inventory of loot destined (of course) for the re-appropriation of the Qing … and sufficiently outraged that, upon discovering weeks after the some artifact Heshen had failed to enumerate,
Had these facts come to Our knowledge before the 18th day of the 1st Moon [i.e., February 22], we should assuredly have decreed Ho Shen’s decapitation, even if We had spared him the lingering death and dismemberment.
However, he has already been permitted to commit suicide, and thus luckily escaped the extreme penalty of public execution. We do not, therefore, insist on his corpse being hacked to pieces.
Jiaqing had better to worry about his own now-declining state, which was about to be hacked to pieces by encroaching European powers.
Having made an example of Heshen and a handful of his most visible allies, he was still saddled with the endemic structural corruption Heshen had fostered in the institutions of Qing governance.
“Historians have tended to see Jiaqing’s failure of nerve in purging the bureaucracy of all tainted officials as something of an original sin whose commission predetermined the dynasty’s steady decline,” writes William T. Rowe of this turning point. “But given the need for at least some continuity in routine administration, it is not at all clear that he could have acted otherwise.”
And so Jiaqing struggled in vain to maintain China’s fading prestige; his reign would witness economic erosion and a burgeoning opium trade that eventually led it to war with the British and humiliating western domination.
Since a sclerotic bureaucracy at once crushing in its expanse, helpless in its effect, and riven with self-dealers, is a timeless theme (especially in China), Heshen persists as a lively emblem of corruption.
Five witnesses, two women, fainted. Altogether there were five women in the chamber at the time of the execution. It was the first time in the history of Arizona that an execution was witnessed by women.
Thanks in part to this ghastly scene, Arizona in 1934 replaced the gallows with the western states’ hot new killing technology, the gas chamber … leaving Dugan the last female client of that state’s hangman.
(Another woman, Ruth Judd, narrowly missed swiping Dugan’s distinction; Judd’s hanging sentence was commuted for insanity just days short of her scheduled 1933 hanging.)