Posts filed under 'Malaysia'

1953: Mat Indera, for the Bukit Kepong incident

Add comment January 30th, 2020 Headsman

Muhammad Indera — popularly known as Mat Indera — was executed on this date in 1953 in British-controlled Malaysia.

The imam turned Communist insurgent directed one of the signal bloodbaths of the Malayan Emergency — the tumultuous decade of political and guerrilla struggle against the British Empire for sovereignty.

Mat Indera’s contribution was the 1950 Bukit Kepong incident — an armed attack on a police station in that town that killed 19 policemen.


The 1981 movie Bukit Kepong dramatizes the events in question.

The British put a handsome price on the man’s head, and in 1952 someone took it.

His name and his deed are still controversial enough in Malaysia that a politician in 2011 found himself upon a sticky wicket for suggesting that Mat Indera was an anti-imperial hero.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,History,Malaysia,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Wartime Executions

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1877: Dato Maharaja Lela, Perak War rebel

Add comment January 20th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1877, the British put a bow on a suppressed rebellion in Malaysia by executing one of its leaders.

The conflict is known as the Perak War. Perak was a sultanate on the Malaysian peninsula that had been torn by conflict for much of the 19th century and in 1874 sought protectorate status from the trade-hungry British who were only too happy to grant it.

Many Malayans were much less happy, and the very next year the first British Resident of Perak, James W. W. Birch, was assassinated by nationalists chuffed at his meddling — launching in the process the brief and unsuccessful Perak War.

The sultan-appointed mufti Dato Maharaja Lela (English Wikipedia entry | Malaysian) was the author of this murder* and then one of the primary leaders of a very short-lived rebellion. It was all done and dusted in a matter of weeks with the British carrying a couple of decisive early engagements and our Maharaja sinking into the wilderness for a few months as a fugitive. Add in some mopping up and there’s your war.

He’d be captured and eventually executed for the Birch assassination, in Taiping, Perak (Not to be confused with Taiping Island, in Taiwan); in this he had a better fate than the sultan, whom the British merely exiled to the Seychelles — where the deposed sovereign occupied his time adapting a French ditty into what became the Malaysian national anthem.

* Birch’s ham-handed carelessness of local mores is the stock motivation imputed to his killers, but some have pointed to his move towards outlawing the slave trade as a serious ding to Dato Maharaja Lela’s bottom line.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,History,Malaysia,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Separatists,Soldiers,Wartime Executions

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1950: Rosli Dhobi, Sarawak patriot

Add comment March 2nd, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1950, Rosli Dhobi or Dhoby was hanged by the British for assassinating the governor of Sarawak.

The scene of events lies in the present-day state of Malaysia, which gained independence in 1957. As a glance at the atlas will show, Malaysia oddly comprises two principal chunks of territory lying hundreds of kilometers apart across the southern reaches of the South China Sea: the end of the Malay Peninsula, reaching south from Thailand and the Eurasian landmass — and the northern third of the island of Borneo, which Malaysia shares with Indonesia and Brunei.

Dhobi’s passion is a story of the Borneo side — from what is today the largest of Malaysia’s 13 constituent states, Sarawak.

The British presence at Sarawak dated to the mid-19th century when the Kingdom of Sarawak began as a series of personal concessions extracted from the Sultan of Brunei by an ex-Raj officer turned adventurer named James Brooke. Casting about for a vocation in the mother country back in the 1830s after resigning his commission, Brooke had plunked his £30,000 inheritance down on a schooner, sailed it to southeast Asia, and made such a timely and effective intervention against pirates plaguing Borneo that the Sultan put him in charge of parts of Sarawak.*

The man proved to have a deft hand for diplomacy and governance and steadily grew his fiefdom, eventually establishing his own dynastic monarchy, the White Rajahs.

In 1946, the third and last of Brooke’s dynasty, Vyner Brooke,** ceded his family’s interest in Sarawak to the British Colonial Office — changing it from a crown protectorate to a crown colony and setting Sarawak on the path to transit the era of decolonization tied to the British colony of Malaysia instead of, say, independent statehood. No surprise, this backroom arrangement among Anglo suits played to many in Sarawak as a wanton abnegation of self-determination, spurring a widespread anti-cession movement.

Thus aggrieved, our man Rosli Dhobi (English Wikipedia page | Malaysian) became deeply involved with an anti-cession group called the Sibu Malay Youth Movement.

Out of this body, 13 particularly radical members eventually formed a secret terrorist cell called Rukun 13 (“13 Pillars”). Balked of their plan to murder the British governor Charles Arden-Clarke by the latter’s timely transfer to Ghana, they instead greeted his successor Duncan Stewart just days after arrival — with Dhobi fatally daggering the new guy when he appeared at a photo op at the town of Sibu. Dhobi was only 17 years old at the time.

In time the British successfully suppressed the anti-cession movement, but Dhobi’s execution was so politically sensitive when it occurred that he was buried in an unmarked grave within the walls of Kuching Central Prison. The judgment of posterity in Sarawak has been quite a bit more generous: on March 2, 1996, the forty-sixth anniversary of his hanging, he was reburied in the Sarawak Heroes’ Mausoleum in Sibu. A school in that town is also named for him.

* Another noteworthy example of an intrepid private individual redrawing the colonial map for his mother country occurred decades later with Germany’s presence in Tanzania.

** Vyner Brooke’s nephew and his heir apparent as the prospective next White Rajah, Anthony Brooke, bitterly opposed the cession, so much so that British intelligence initially considered him a possible suspect in Duncan’s murder. Anthony Brooke formally ceded all his own potential claims to the rule of Sarawak in 1951.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Children,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Malaysia,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Separatists,Terrorists

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1989: Jimmy Chua and his Pudu Prison siege accomplices

Add comment October 10th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1989, six men went to Malaysia’s gallows for orchestrating a notorious prison revolt three years earlier.

The Pudu Prison siege began on October 17, 1986, when the inmates in question rushed a prison clinic, taking hostage a doctor and a laboratory technician using improvised shanks. For nearly six tense days, the desperados held the medics to ransom in the former British colonial gaol, demanding their own release along with getaway cars and cash.

The ringleader was one Jimmy Chua (pictured at right), a former policeman turned gangland figure who had been detained on a murder charge; accomplices Ng Lai Huat, Sin Ah Lau , Lam Hock Sung, Yap Chee Keong, and Phang Boon Ho were all in prison on various firearms violations. The intrinsic impossibility of their position was underscored over the course of the siege, as Kuala Lumpur gawkers began to join the armed soldiery surrounding the jail: the prisoners who had made themselves centers of attention did not dare trust food sent by the guards, eating only the dwindling provisions that were left on hand at the time of their clinic attack. So how exactly were they ever going to come to an endgame where they would trust assurances to walk out the gates to a mystery car?

This distant hypothetical never crested the horizon, because with the help of a signal from another inmate, Malaysian special forces were able to slip into the facility while the prisoners’ guard was down and take the lot by storm, unharmed and without firing a shot. That meant everyone was around to face trial for kidnapping, which just so happened to carry a maximum sentence of death by hanging despite the absence of a fatality.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Kidnapping,Malaysia,Mass Executions

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1967: Sunny Ang, a murderer without a body

Add comment February 6th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1967, Sunny Ang hanged in Singapore for murder.

“This is an unusual case insofar as Singapore, or for that matter Malaysia,* is concerned,” said the prosecutor. “This is the first case of its kind to be tried in our courts that there is no body.”

The missing corpse did not present anything like the difficulty the barristers might have anticipated for this landmark conviction.

For one thing, everyone knew where and how 22-year-old waitress Jenny Cheok Cheng had died: on a diving trip near the Sisters’ Islands, Cheng had slipped under the waves while her betrothed waited in the boat … and she had never resurfaced. Frogmen combing the area could find only a single swimming flipper: it had been sliced with a knife to make it slip off during the swim, the inference being that the bladehandler had been interested in the inexperienced diver “accidentally” losing her maneuver while the forceful straits currents went to work on her.

Loverboy Sunny Ang, a vain wastrel facing bankruptcy,** just so happened to be in line to benefit, having insured his bride-to-be to the tune of nearly $1 million over several policies — including one which he had extended mere hours before the murder, and extended by only five more days. One imagines here that the tampered flipper might have been just one of several innocuous-looking accidents, each one a little lure for the Angel of Death, slated to cross Jenny Cheng’s path during the couple’s seaside canoodle courtesy of her own personal Final Destination.

In his young life, Ang had washed out of teacher school, pilot school, and law school. Ang’s laziness went on full display in the murder caper because the hired boatman who took the couple out diving — a witness whom Ang was probably expecting to provide his alibi — took the stand to describe the amazing extent of his guest’s unconcern about his lover going missing.

In a situation where the reasonable homicidal villain would anticipate means, motive, and opportunity all implicating him like blazing klaxons, Ang couldn’t be arsed to allay suspicion with the duest of panic-stricken diligence, like putting on his own suit and jumping in the water to look for her, or even raising his voice a few decibels to feign alarm. He did not, however, neglect to file his insurance claims very promptly.

Small wonder with bloodless banter like this that his jury only needed two hours to convict him, body or no body.

Justice Buttrose: Did you realise that this girl, whom you love and whom you were going to marry, had gone down and disappeared, and you calmly turn round to the boatman and said, ‘All right. Go to St John’s’?

Ang: If she was anywhere around the boat we would have seen her air bubbles.

Justice Buttrose: It didn’t occur to you to go down and search for her?

Ang: No.

Justice Buttrose: Why?

Ang: Because I thought there was obviously a leak and also if she was anywhere around the boat, we would have seen her air bubbles.

Mr Seow: You had skin-diving equipment with you in the boat?

Ang: Yes.

Mr Seow: The girl you were going to marry was obviously in difficulty, if not actually dead already. Why didn’t you use your skin-diving equipment to go down?

Ang: I was not quite sure what sort of difficulties she was in. It occurred to me — it was a vague thought — that she might have been attacked by sharks. In fact, I remarked upon that to Yusuf [the boatman]. Not then, but long after the incident.

Justice Buttrose: You could have gone down to find out?

Ang: She might have been attacked by sharks.

Mr Seow: When did you change back into your street clothes?

Ang: I think I remember I put them on, on my way to St John’s Island.

Mr Seow: So that when the Malay divers were going in, you were then in your street clothes, and you saw no point in joining them?

Ang: I do not say I saw no point. I was in my street clothes and there were more experienced skin-divers, and there were five of them. Besides I knew the chances of finding her were very slim.

Justice Buttrose: You never got into the water at all that day? You never got your feet wet?

Ang: That is so.

* Ang went on trial in April 1965, when Singapore was still part of Malaysia — hence the reference to the scope of the country as a whole. By the time Ang hanged, Singapore had been expelled from Malaysia and become an independent polity.

** He had also previously stolen from his father and police already knew that, so he didn’t enter his capital trial with much existing credence for rectitude.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Malaysia,Murder,Pelf,Singapore

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1968: Harun Thohir and Usman Janatin, for the MacDonald House bombing

Add comment October 17th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1968, Indonesian Lance Corporal Harun Thohir and Sgt. Usman Janatin were hanged in Singapore for bombing the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank three years earlier.

Aptly, such confrontational behavior took place during the era of Konfrontasi, a running fight between Indonesia — feeling its oats as a regional power — and the British straits possessions that had just recently been amalgamated (to Indonesia’s irritation) into the new country Malaysia.

This wasn’t a “war” full of set-piece battles: think commando raids and jungle skirmishing instead. Initially confined to the island of Borneo of which Indonesia occupied three-quarters and coveted the remainder, the fight provocatively spilled to the “homeland” Malay Peninsula itself, including a number of saboteur bombings concentrated in Singapore — which was still a part of Malaysia in the early 1960s.

The most notorious and destructive of these was conducted on March 10, 1965, by our men Harun Thohir and Usman Janatir along with a third commando named Gani bin Arup. Tasked with bombing an electric station, they instead packed 12 kg of nitroglycerin into a bank — an iconic landmark that was at the time the tallest in its vicinity. The MacDonald House bombing killed three civilians and injured 133 more.

Gani bin Arup escaped successfully, but Janatin and Thohir suffered a motorboat breakdown and were apprehended. By the time their execution date arrived, a few things had changed: Singapore itself had been expelled from Malaysia to become an independent city-state; and, the Konfrontasi era had been dialed back with the deposition of Indonesian president Sukarno.

But the hanging still stayed on, and feelings ran understandably high for both the former antagonists.

The jurisdictional issue of most moment for the bombers was not the identity of the offended state, but their contention that they were regular armed forces members just following their orders and entitled to prisoner of war status. Jakarta was indignant at Singaporean courts’ dismissal of this angle; Singapore, well, it didn’t want to take a soft line on terrorists blowing up banks.


Headline in the Oct. 18, 1968 London Times, reporting “a crowd of 10,000 people who joined the procession to the war heroes’ cemetery here [Jakarta] carried banners proclaiming: ‘Declare total war on Singapore’, ‘Annihilate Singapore’, and ‘Hang Lee Kuan Yew‘.”

As is so often the case, one man’s terrorists are often another’s freedom fighters: the hanged marines remain today official national heroes in Indonesia, and in 2014 the navy created a diplomatic incident with Singapore by christening a Bung Tomo-class corvette the KRI Usman-Harun.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Guerrillas,Hanged,History,Indonesia,Malaysia,Martyrs,Murder,Ripped from the Headlines,Singapore,Soldiers,Terrorists

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2003: Vignes Mourthi, framed in Singapore?

Add comment September 26th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 2003, 23-year-old Malaysian Vignes Mourthi was hanged in Singapore’s Changi Prison as a drug courier, along with his supposed collaborator Moorthy Angappan.

Mourthi vigorously maintained his innocence, and his family has done likewise in the years since, helping turn the young factory worker into a wrongful-execution poster child.

It was a Sgt. Rajkumar who arrested Mourthi by posing as a buyer of his cargo. Rajkumar would later present an undated, unsigned “confession” purporting to show that Mourthi was completely aware that it was heroin he was moving. At first read one might might indeed doubt Mourthi’s insistence that he thought he was carrying “incense stones” … but his compatriot Angappan was indeed an incense dealer and a family friend known to Mourthi as such.

British journalist Alan Shadrake‘s 2010 indictment of Singaporean justice Once a Jolly Hangman (banned in its titular city-state) calls Mourthi’s hanging “arguably one of the most appalling miscarriages of justice in Singapore’s history”.

Rajkumar’s testimony about Mourthi’s confession was instrumental in hanging the young man, but just a couple of days after he arrested Mourthi, Rajkumar himself was arrested (and then released on bail) on a rape accusation. According to the recent book Once a Jolly Hangman, whose denunciations of Singapore’s death penalty system earned its author a prison term in the repressive city-state,

Intense efforts were … made by Rajkumar’s many friends in the CNB and a police friend at Clementi Police Station to persuade ‘J’ to withdraw her statement. The bribes involved large sums of money, which she refused … There were frantic, secret meetings between Rajkumar, his police officer friends and his accuser in shopping malls and fast-food outlets during which he, his family and friends continued to offer large sums of money in exchange for withdrawing her allegations. All this intrigue was going on while Rajkumar was busy getting enough evidence together to ensure Mourthi would be found guilty and hanged.

So. That’s less than ideal.

Sadly for the accused, none of this credibility-melting information was ever known during Mourthi’s trial and appeal. After Mourthi’s execution, the bad cop who hanged him went on trial for corruption over his witness-tampering, and eventually served 15 months.

Certainty is never given to mortals. But Mourthi’s father for one has no doubt: “I know he is innocent.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Drugs,Execution,Hanged,Malaysia,Ripped from the Headlines,Singapore,Wrongful Executions

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1981: Botak Chin, gangster

1 comment June 11th, 2010 Sarah Chan

(Thanks to Sarah Chan for the guest post, originally published last year as part of a longer article in Klue, 5 Most Infamous Pudu Jail Inmates. -ed.)

Botak Chin, real name Wong Swee Chin, was one of Malaysia’s most wanted criminals.

His first taste of the underworld was when he joined Gang 306, participating in his first armed robbery in April 19, 1969. He was caught once and sentenced to seven years in jail after committing eight robberies.

When he got out, he did try to make a decent living as a vegetable trader but found the earnings to be pitiful. He eventually went on to form his own gang with Ng Cheng Wong, Beh Kok Chin and Teh Bok Lay — robbing banks, running illegal gambling dens and initiating gang wars (with the Lima Jari Gunung gang).

It all went downhill for Botak Chin when they tried to assassinate assistant police commissioner S. Kulasingam, and failed. His attempt spurred the formation of The Dirty Dozen: 12 policemen who established a force to specifically capture Botak Chin. This lead to his arrest in February 1976 after a shoot-out where he was shot six times but survived.

Thrown into Pudu Jail under the Internal Security Act, he attempted escape in 1981 but failed. He was finally hung to death on 11 June 1981.

A movie on his life was in production, directed by Dain Said (who also directed Dukun, about Mona Fandey). No updates on how that’s going …

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,Malaysia,Organized Crime,Other Voices,Pelf

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2001: Mona Fandey, witch doctor

6 comments November 2nd, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 2001, former pop singer and shaman Mona Fandey was hanged with two accomplices at Kajang Prison outside Kuala Lumpur, closing the noose on one of the world’s weirdest and most sensational recent crimes.

Aging B-list pop crooner Maznah Ismail — “Mona Fandey” was her stage name — had transitioned to a gig as a high-rent spiritualist and healer, known locally as a bomoh.

In that capacity, she and hubby Mohd Affandi Abdul Rahman landed a politician with more money than sense. After collecting a bunch of cash from him, they got him to lie down with his eyes closed as part of a ritual that was supposed to make money fall from the skies. Instead, the couple’s assistant Juraimi Hussin chopped off his head, and Mona went on a shopping spree.

The effect of the grisly celebrity murder was heightened by Mona’s cheery demeanor throughout the trial and thereafter, as if a murderess’ notoriety was the pinnacle she never achieved as an entertainer.

She and her husband maintained an unsettling placidity about their demise to the very end. Some sources say she uttered the mysterious remark, “I will never die” just before her hanging. (Others have everyone silent.)

The end of the three killers was hardly the end of such a headline-grabbing case in the public memory. Her cell is becoming a protected “heritage site”, and her story has been treated on screens both small and silver.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Artists,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Entertainers,Execution,Famous Last Words,Hanged,Infamous,Malaysia,Murder,Pelf,Popular Culture,Ripped from the Headlines,Women

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1979: Eleven by a Firing Squad in Iran

13 comments August 27th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1979, the only anonymous photograph to win a Pulitzer Prize captured nine Kurdish rebels and two of the Shah’s policemen executed by firing squad in revolutionary Iran.

This shot, one of a series taken of the event with the permission of the judge who condemned the men to immediate death in a half-hour trial at the Sanandaj airfield, ran the next day in the Iranian paper Ettela’at, whose editor prudently kept the photographer’s identity secret. Within two days, the stunning photo had rocketed around the world.

It won the Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography the following spring, still credited anonymously.

Two years ago, the Wall Street Journal revealed — with the photographer’s permission — the identity of the man who shot this indelible image: Jahangir Razmi, who had gone on to a career as one of Iran’s top photographic journalists. He came to New York to collect the prize 27 years late.

The article breaking the story is still available on the Journal‘s website, and on the personal site of reporter Joshua Prager. An NPR story discussing the search for Razmi’s identity is here.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Iran,Malaysia,Mass Executions,Mature Content,Murder,Popular Culture,Power,Public Executions,Ripped from the Headlines,Shot,Summary Executions,Treason

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