Posts filed under 'Torture'

2009: Ehsan Fatahian, Iranian Kurdish activist

Add comment November 11th, 2020 Headsman

Iranian Kurdish activist Ehsan Fatahian was hanged on this date in 2009 in Sanandaj, the provincial capital of Iranian Kurdistan.

He was condemned for alleged “armed struggle against the regime” as part of the proscribed Komala party. He initially received “only” a 10-year prison term, but an appeals court elevated the sentence — and that sentence was ominously rushed to completion.

Other political prisoners staged a hunger strike in protest of his hanging, and thousands of people signed online petitions circulated by human rights organizations begging Tehran to abate the sentence.

Fatahian’s moving last statement to the world, written a few days before his hanging:

Last ray of sun at sunset
is the path that I want to write on
The sound of leaves under my feet
say to me: Let yourself fall
and only then you find the path to freedom.

I have never been afraid of death, even now that I feel it closest to me. I can sense it and I’m familiar with it, for it is an old acquaintance of this land and this people. I’m not writing about death but about justifications for death, now that they have translated it to restoring justice and freedom, can one be afraid of future and destiny? “We” who have been sentenced to death by “them,” were working to find a small opening to a better world, free of injustice, are “they” also aware of what they are working towards?

I started life in city of Kermanshah, the city that my country people consider grand, the birthplace of civilization in our country. I soon noticed discrimination and oppression and I felt it in the depth of my existence, this cruelty, and the “why” of this cruelty and trying to resolve it made me come up with thousands of thoughts. But alas, they had blocked all the roads to justice and made the atmosphere so repressive that I didn’t find any way to change things inside, and I migrated to another resort: “I became a pishmarg [armed Kurdish fighter or literally “one who faces death”] of Koomaleh,” the temptation to find myself and the identity that I was deprived of made me go in that direction. Although leaving my birthplace was difficult but it never made me cut ties with my childhood hometown. Every now and then I would go back to my first home to revisit my old memories, and one of these times “they” made my visit sour, arrested and imprisoned me. From that first moment and from the hospitality (!!) of my jailers I realized that the tragic destiny of my numerous [comrades] also awaits me: torture, file building, closed and seriously influenced court, an unjust and politically charged verdict, and finally death.

Let me say it more casually: after getting arrested in town of Kamyaran on 29/4/87 [July 19, 2008] and after a few hours of being a “guest” at the information office of that town, while handcuffs and a blindfold took away my right to see and move, a person who introduced himself as a deputy of the prosecutor started asking a series of unrelated questions that were full of false accusations (I should point out that any judicial questioning outside of courtroom is prohibited in the law). This was the first of my numerous interrogation sessions. The same night I was moved to the information office of Kurdestan province in city of Sanandaj, and I experienced the real party there: a dirty cell with an unpleasant toilet with blankets that had probably not seen water in decades! From that moment my nights and days passed in the interrogation offices and lower hallway under extreme torture and beatings and this lasted three months. In these three months my interrogators, probably in pursuit of a promotion or some small raise, came up with strange and false accusations against me, which they better than anyone knew how far from reality they were. They tried very hard to prove that I was involved with an armed attempt to overthrow the regime. The only charges they could pursue was being a part of “Koomaleh” and advertising against the regime. The first “shobe” [branch] of Islamic republic court in Sanandaj found me guilty of these charges and gave me 10 years sentence in exile in Ramhormoz prison. The government’s political and bureaucratic structure always suffers from being centralized, but in this case they tried to de-centralize the judiciary and gave the powers to re-investigate (appeal?) the crimes of political prisoners, even as high as death penalties, to the appeal courts in Kurdestan province. In this case [Kamyaran’s city attorney] appealed the verdict by the first court and the Kurdestan appeals court changed my verdict from 10 years in prison to death sentence, against the Islamic republic laws. According to section 258 of “Dadrasi Keyfari” law [criminal justice law], an appeals court can increase the initial verdict only in the case that the initial verdict was less than minimum punishment for the crime. In my case, the crime was “Moharebeh” (animosity with God), which has the minimum punishment of one year sentence, and my verdict was a 10 year sentence in exile, clearly above the minimum. Compare my sentence to the minimum sentence for this crime to understand the unlawful and political nature of my death sentence. Although I also have to mention that shortly before changing the verdict they transferred me from the main prison in Sanandaj to the interrogation office of the Information Department and requested that I do a video interview confessing to crimes I have not committed, and say things that I do not believe in. In spite of a lot of pressure I did not agree to do the video confession and they told me bluntly that they will change my verdict to death sentence, which they shortly did, and demonstrated how the courts follow forces outside of judiciary department. So should they be blamed??

A judge has been sworn to stay fair in every situation, at all times and towards every person and look at the world from the legal perspective. Which judge in this doomed land can claim to has not broken this [oath]and has stayed fair and just? In my opinion the number of such judges is less than fingers on one hand. When the whole judicial system of Iran with the suggestion of an interrogator (with no knowledge of legal matters), arrests, tries, imprisons and executes people, can we really blame the few judges of a province which is always repressed and discriminated against? Yes, this house is ruined from its foundations.

This is in spite of the fact that in my last visit with my prosecutor he admitted that the death sentence is unlawful, but for the second time they gave me the notice for carrying out the execution. Needless to say that this insistence on carrying a death sentence under any circumstance is the result of pressure from security and political forces from outside of the judiciary department. [The people who belong to these circles] look at life and death of political prisoners only from the point of view of their paychecks and political needs, nothing else matters to them other than their own goals, even if it is about the most fundamental right of other human beings, their right to live. Forget international laws, they completely disregard even their own laws and procedures.

But my last words: If in the minds of these rulers and oppressors my death will get rid of the “problem” called Kurdestan [the province], I should say, what an illusion. Neither my death nor the death of thousands like me will be remedy to this incurable pain and perhaps would even fuel this fire. Without a doubt, every death points to a new life.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Iran,Kurdistan,Power,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Revolutionaries,Ripped from the Headlines,Torture,Treason,Wrongful Executions

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1066: John Scotus, sacrificed to Radegast

Add comment November 10th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1066, John Scotus was sacrificed to the Slavic god Radegast.

That’s Scotus not as in the Supreme Court of the United States, but as in Scotland: our man Johannes (English Wikipedia entry | German) was an Hibernian prelate, possibly previously the Bishop of Orkney and/or the Bishop of Glasgow, who came to Saxony in 1053 as the first Bishop of Mecklenburg.

The land was governed by the Slavic Obotrites (Abodrites), commonly known in western chronicles as the Wends. Predominantly pagan, they were at the time of John’s invitation ruled by a Christian king, Gottschalk. This man’s father had converted to Christianity, and Gottschalk himself during his life had apostatized and then re-converted — illustrating the fraught balance between the confessions. A century hence, these northern unbelievers would face the blades of Christendom’s crusaders.


Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky is the enduring silver screen remnant of the Northern Crusades of the 12th-13th centuries, but the very first of these campaigns was an 1147 crusade against the Wends.

As one might infer, then, Gottschalk’s aspiration to bring his kingdom over to his faith* did not go to plan, even though (according to the near-contemporary chronicle by Adam of Bremen) he “baptized many thousands of pagans.” Many more thousands than that remained un-moved by his sermons in alien Latin; overall, pagans held perhaps a 2:1 or greater preponderance over Christians among these people.

Wound-up Wends rebelled in 1066, deposing and murdering Gottschalk while his heirs fled into exile. John Scotus was not so nimble as the latter, and his political protection having disappeared, “the aged Bishop John was taken with other Christians in Magnopolis [Mecklenburg Castle] and held for a triumph. And because he confessed Christ he was beaten with rods and then was led in mockery through one city of the Slavs after another. Since he could not be turned from the profession of Christ his hands and feet were lopped off and his body was thrown into the road. His head, however, the barbarians cut off, fixed on a spear, and offered to their god Redigast in token of their victory. These things were done in the chief city of the Slavs, Rethra, on the fourth Ides** of November.” (Cf. Adam of Bremen)

The Obotrites were definitively back in the pagan camp for the foreseeable. There was no successor Bishop of Mecklenburg for nearly a century.

* Religion was also a wedge for Gottschalk’s political perspective, of mastering pagan nobility within his realm, and allying to neighboring Christian princes abroad.

** The Ides of November was the 13th; by Latin locution, using Romans’ inclusive numbering, the “second Ides” was the “second” [first] day before that, i.e., the 12th — and the “fourth Ides” the 10th.

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Entry Filed under: 11th Century,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Disemboweled,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Germany,God,Gruesome Methods,History,Martyrs,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Torture

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1525: Klaus Kniphoff, pirate

Add comment October 30th, 2020 Headsman

Pirate Claus/Klaus Kniphoff was beheaded at Hamburg on this date in 1525.

He was the stepson of the former mayor of Malmö, a Hanseatic port on the southern reach of what is now Sweden, but which at the time answered to Danish sovereignty.

This was the very city where the 1524 treaty was inked settling the Swedish War of Liberation [from Denmark], and it was during this conflict that Kniphoff had taken from the Danish king Christian II a letter of marque authorizing him to prey on the merchant vessels of the Hanseatic League cities aiding Sweden’s rebellion. His prolific piracy career outlasted the end of the war.

The Hanseatic League, merchant-cities for whom open sea lanes were paramount, were always bound to take a dim view of his privateering and they had good legal grounds since there was never a declared war between Denmark and the Hanse. Danish speakers can enjoy a detailed biography here (pdf).

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Denmark,Execution,Germany,Hanseatic League,History,Piracy,Pirates,Public Executions,Torture,Wartime Executions

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1944: Zainal Mustafa, resister

Add comment October 25th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1944, the Japanese occupying Indonesia executed Zainal Mustafa with 17 of his followers.

The Javanese ulama had already been charged by the Dutch with provoking resistance to colonial rule by the time the Japanese moved in as the overseas overlord in March 1942.

Mustafa (English Wikipedia entry | Indonesian, which is the language of most links about him) was no more amenable to collaboration with the new bosses, and began constituting his students into a resistance militia.

After a February shootout with the santri in February 1944 that left a number of Japanese soldiers dead, the occupation came for him with overwhelming force and stuffed the prison at Tasikmalaya with 700 or more of them.

One of their number who survived the ordeal who rose to the brass of the Indonesian army later uncovered the details of his fate, including his secret execution. Mustafa was hailed as a National Hero of Indonesia in 1972.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Indonesia,Japan,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Religious Figures,Shot,Torture,Wartime Executions

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1614: Magdalena Weixler, “my innocence will come to light”

Add comment October 10th, 2020 Headsman

From Servants of Satan: The Age of the Witch Hunts:

Another surviving letter from a condemned witch to her husband comes from Ellwangen in 1614. Magdalena Weixler wife of the chapter scribe Georg, wrote shortly before her execution: “I know that my innocence will come to light, even if I do not live to see it. I would not be concerned that I must die, if it were not for my poor children; but if it must be so, may God give me the grace that I may endure it with patience.”

Weixler’s case was especially horrible because her jailer had tricked her into turning over her jewelry and granting him sexual favors in return for a false promise to spare her from torture. Soon afterward, the jailer was caught and tried for bribery and breaking the secrecy of court proceedings. His trial revealed widespread rape of imprisoned women and the existence of an extortion racket whereby guards sold names to torture victims who desperately needed people to accuse of complicity in witchcraft. Such corruption among jailers must have been common when prisons themselves were a kind of torture [“when” -ed.], especially for those too poor to buy food and warm clothing from the turnkey.

The October 10 execution date comes from this pdf roster of German witchcraft executions.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,Public Executions,Torture,Witchcraft,Women,Wrongful Executions

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1980: Necdet Adalı and Mustafa Pehlivanoğlu, September 12 coup sacrifices

Add comment October 8th, 2020 Headsman

Turkey’s “September 12” military junta — which had taken power in a coup on that day — hanged Necdet Adalı on this date in 1980, followed a few hours later by Mustafa Pehlivanoğlu.

Respectively a left-wing alleged terrorist and a right-wing* alleged one, they were offered up together with intentional ideological balance in the military’s bid to quash the years-long warfare between factions that marred the 1970s.

Both were condemned for a few of the 5,000-plus political murders that took place during those years, and both doubtfully; Adalı famously declined to participate in an escape attempt for fear it would mar his claim of innocence, and Pehlivanoğlu renounced his confession to a series of coffee shop attacks as torture-adduced.


“Safak Türküsü” (“Dawn Folk Song”), a verse tribute to Adalı by Nevzat Çelik.

They were Turkey’s first executions since 1972, and not by far the last ones that the military government imposed. These young men and the others that followed them are still esteemed martyrs so much so that when the present-day president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, passed constitutional updates by referendum in 2010 that (among other things) curtailed military immunity from prosecution, he invoked both the left-wing and right-wing victims by way of justification.

* Pehlivanoğlu was ülkücü, literally translated as “idealistic”. In context this term denotes right-wing nationalism; the Gray Wolves fascist militant organization, for instance, is officially the “Idealist Clubs Educational and Cultural Foundation”.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Terrorists,Torture,Turkey,Wrongful Executions

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1989: Moises Giroldi, Panamanian general

Add comment October 4th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1989, Panamanian Gen. Moises Giroldi Vera was shot in the San Miguelito barracks for his coup attempt the previous day.

With tensions mounting between strongman Manuel Noriega and his U.S. patrons — Washington had laid Panama under sanctions, indicted Noriega, and by year’s end invaded to depose him — Giroldi shot his shot by attempting to topple the regime from within.

U.S. intelligence provided minimal help to a man one described as “a bastard, a sort of mini-Noriega,” skeptical of the rebel officers’ capacity for completing the putsch. But they came pretty close, actually capturing Noriega on the morning of Oct. 3; the plotters’ dithering about handing him over to American agents enabled the dictator to summon help and reverse the attempt.

Giroldi and ten other soldiers involved in the abortive coup were tortured at a hangar at the Albrook air base, and all of them killed. Nine of them died at that site so their collective fate is known as the Albrook massacre, notwithstanding the venue change for Giroldi’s own summary execution. Legend holds that Noriega himself pulled the trigger.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Mass Executions,Panama,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Torture,Treason

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1947: Yoshio Tachibana, ravenous

Add comment September 24th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1947, Japanese Imperial Army Lt. Gen. Yoshio Tachibana was hanged as a war criminal.

A career officer whose own star rose along with Japan’s empire, Tachibana (English Wikipedia entry | Japanese) was one of the youngest generals on the squad and had command of the garrison on Chichijima, a Pacific island that’s part of the same archipelago as Iwo Jima.

According to Timothy Maga* evidence at the subsequent war crimes trials portrayed a monstrous pattern of routine murder of POWs and even a “cannibalism craze” driven by the unchecked sadism of Tachibana and some of his fellow officers.

Tachibana had beheaded his victim before the feast. Human flesh, he had boasted to his men, toughened him up, making him ‘strong for battle’. The Tachibana trial was truly an amazing spectacle, although it never received the press attention of less disturbing cases in Tokyo. The prosecution even charged that Tachibana’s example influenced young officers in his command, creating a certain reign of horror on Chichi Jima throughout late 1944 and early 1945. Yet finding ‘smoking gun’ evidence against Tachibana was difficult, and Rear-Adm. Arthur Robinson who presided in this case demanded evidence rather than damning tales. In August 1946, a team went to Chichi Jima and scoured the island. They found the bodies of eight of Tachibana’s victims. The torture, murder and cannibalism accusations against Tachibana numbered in the hundreds, but there was little left to prove any of them. Fourteen of Tachibana’s junior officers had been similarly charged, but, in the madness that was Chichi Jima, it was also difficult to assign specific murders to specific individuals …

Capt. Hiro Kasuga, who was briefly on Chichi Jima while en route to Tokyo near the end of the war, told the commission that one of the first things he saw on the island was several American POWs tied to stakes near Tachibana’s headquarters. All were starving, and, at one point, he dared to give one of the men a rice cake and water. The confusion of an American air raid had permitted him this action, for Tachibana, Kasuga learned, tortured all POWs in his keeping … he saw only one American servicman live longer than a couple of weeks on Chichi Jima. That soldier, Kasuga testified, had a decent command of the Japanese language, and Tachibana used him to translate American radio broadcasts. The wireless operator bayoneted him after ‘he was no longer of any use’, and Tachibana commended this subordinate for his action. Kasuga claimed that Tachibana and his officers regarded ‘human life of no more value than an old post at a dusty crossroads’. He said he ‘had been to hell’, and it was Tachibana’s Chichi Jima.

Kasuga’s credibility was in some doubt but corroboration came by way of an amazing character named Fumio Tamamuro. An American of Japanese descent, Tamamuro had the ill luck to be visiting relatives in Japan when the Pearl Harbor bombing abruptly opened war between the countries, and he was drafted into the Japanese army. He’d been under Tachibana’s command on Chichijima at the end of the war.

His testimony was in flawless English. Tamamuro claimed that he had befriended an American POW wireless operator translator. He also claimed to have witnessed the man’s execution, describing in detail the leather jacket and scarf that the victim was wearing at the time. This was critical, for the prosecution had found such a jacket and scarf near a road in Chichi Jima. They also found what was left of a body there, although identification was impossible. Tamamuro described the road and grave site in detail, noting that the victim had been ordered to dig his own shallow grave before the execution. When asked why he needed to be present during this murder, Tamamuro tearfully explained that he had promised his ‘friend’ that he would b there to the end.

The naval facilities and long-range radio there made Chichijima a regular magnet for U.S. bombing raids, which in turn assured a steady supply of captives to abuse courtesy of the island’s anti-aircraft batteries. The eight exhumed bodies referenced above formed the basis of the Tachibana’s eventual hanging, and it is these killings that are known as the Chichijima Incident — even though they might simply have been the latest and best-documented among many similar horrors.

In September 1944, eight downed flyers were captured by Chichijima’s defenders.

In the mischance of war, the Fates deal out good and ill luck by their own inscrutable logic. A ninth flyer might have numbered in this same batch, for he too was downed over Chichijima on the same mission. But 20-year-old Navy Lt. George Herbert Walker Bush bailed out of an exploding bomber, and somehow defied a head injury, the force of the tides, the pursuit of Japanese boats, and the monsters of the deep for a fascinating life that culminated as the 41st U.S. president. In his book about the Chichijima Incident, Flyboys: A True Story of Courage, James Bradley sketches the sliding door to an alternate timeline.

He splashed down about four miles northeast of the island and swam to a collapsible yellow one-man life raft dropped from another plane. He inflated it and climbed in. He had no paddles, and the wind was blowing him toward Chichi Jima.

“I could see the island,” Bush told me. “I started paddling with my hands, leaning over the front of the raft, paddling as hard as I could. A Portuguese man-of-war had stung my arm and it hurt. I had swallowed a few pints of water and I was vomiting. My head was bleeding. I was wondering about my crewmen. I was crying. I was twenty years old and I was traumatized. I had just survived a burning plane crash. I was all alone and I was wondering if I’d make it.”

Chichijima’s defenders had seen him go down too, and launched boats for him. The other pilots on the mission, running low on fuel, were able to strafe them away from the chase but as their fuel dwindled they had to abandon him, radioing his situation on to friendly forces.

For what seemed like an eternity, George paddled and hoped and paddled some more. “I had seen the famous photo of the Australian pilot being beheaded,” Bush told me, “and I knew how Americans were treated at Bataan. Yes, I had a few things on my mind.”

But the radio ping fired off by his fellow aviators spared the future president from those fates and worse, summoning for a rescuer the submarine USS Finback.


George Bush being fished out of the drink on September 2, 1944.

* “‘Away from Tokyo:’ the Pacific Islands War Crimes Trials, 1945-1949”, The Journal of Pacific History, June 2001. This book develops the evidence in greater detail.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Japan,Lucky to be Alive,Murder,Not Executed,Soldiers,Torture,U.S. Military,USA,War Crimes

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1630: Yuan Chonghuan

Add comment September 22nd, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1630,* the Ming statesman Yuan Chonghuan was executed by lingchi

Yuan Chonghuan’s tomb in Beijing. (cc) image by Walter Grassroot.

Yuan (English Wikipedia entry | Chinese was a commander during the 1620s wars against invaders from Manchuria — wars that in due course would bring about the end of the Ming dynasty and the transition to the Manchu-founded Qing. For that very reason, Yuan cuts a sort of Stilicho figure, whose historical shadow is that of a capable commander undone due to petty infighting by a state too far gone to rot to recognize that it needed his talents.**

Yuan scored some notable battlefield wins against the Manchu (Jurchen) invaders in his time. Political intrigue saw him pushed out of power for a spell, ere a new emperor took the throne and called him out of retirement, investing him with enough authority to execute a rival general on his own say-so.

Despite successfully defending Beijing itself from a Jurchen attack, Yuan came under suspicion for the escape in that battle of the enemy ruler — Hong Taiji, the man who would become the founder of the Qing dynasty. Had he passed on an opportunity to follow up his victory because he had a treasonable understanding with the guy who stood a fair chance at conquering China in the foreseeable future? The charge formed the basis of his destruction. At least Yuan could be philosophical about it: “A life’s work always end in vain; half of my career seems to be in dreams. After death my loyal spirit will continue to guard Liaodong.”

Later rulers — the Manchu/Qing rulers — officially rehabilitated the man and his countrymen down to the present day pay him tribute at various public memorials to his honor, like Yuan Chonghuan Memorial Park in his native Dongguan.


A 1956 serialized novel treating the end of Yuan and the revenge sought by his (entirely fictional) son Yuan Chengzhi, Sword Stained with Royal Blood, has been re-adapted into numerous martial arts jams for film and television.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,China,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Famous Last Words,Gruesome Methods,History,Lingchi,Myths,Notably Survived By,Popular Culture,Power,Public Executions,Soldiers,Torture,Treason,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions

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2020: Navid Afkari

Add comment September 12th, 2020 Headsman

Iran today hanged wrestling champion Navid Afkari.

Afkari was among thousands of Iranians to join 2018 nationwide protests against the government. These protests lasted most of the year, and spread through most of Iran’s major cities, and eventually drew a draconian response.

Clashes in Shiraz resulted in the killing of a water and sewage department security guard named Hasan Torkman, and it was this that was laid at Navid Afkari’s feet as homicide.

Afkari’s case drew international condemnation, especially from world athletes who agreed with his claims that he was targeted for his grappling fame in order to send a message, and that his confession to the murder was tortured out of him. As a further twist of the knife, Afkari’s brothers Vahid and Habib were also convicted in the same affair and received lengthy prison terms. Video that campaigners circulated of Navid’s mother is positively devastating … as is the heartbreaking audio of Navid’s last message shortly before his execution.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Athletes,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Entertainers,Execution,Hanged,Iran,Murder,Power,Ripped from the Headlines,Torture,Wrongful Executions

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