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 tday 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 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.
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.
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 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 Journalrevealed — 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.
Two years ago today, the strange leader of a mystical Islamic fight club was hanged at Malaysia’s Sungai Buloh prison for waging war on the king.
Caption Contest?: The Headsman could be mistaken, but based on an altogether amateur comparison to the Razali shot on this BBC story, I believe that’s him in the white. Photo from the sect website.
The heretofore obscure Al Ma’unah — just a couple dozen guys — had descended on an army camp in July 2000 and made off with a handsome cache of weapons and a few hostages, apparently the opening gambit in a bid to launch an Islamic fundamentalist revolution in Malaysia.
What actually happened was the army hunted them down and engulfed them a couple of days later.
You’d never know the ambitious designs of this clique from its web site (still online as of this writing), whose English “about us” page rings harmlessly loopy (all grammatical manglings [sic]):
Al-Ma’unah … is a Non-Govermental Organisation (NGO) … involved in the teaching of martial arts particularly the development of one’s inner power and the practice of Islamic traditional medicine.
Literary, the term “Ma’unah” is an Arabic word which means, something extraordinary that happens to an ordinary Muslim individual, for example extra sensory perception or the ability to see “things” in another dimension (paranormal).
“Al-Ma’unah Inner Power” can be defined as “something extraordinary bestowed to a righteous Muslim (in the form of assistance from Allah) in accordance with specific adherence to tradition and proper sequence emphasising on the Islamic principles and Allah’s commandments as stipulated in the holy Quran”.
In teaching the martial art and traditional medicine, the brotherhood placed more emphasis on spiritual development and enlightenment of its members or “ikhwan” as it is known in Al-Maunah, in order to achieve the highest level of proficiency in the art and to attain great healing powers.
… although a section entitled “The Usage of the Inner Power” suggests the training achieves the sorts of useful martial superpowers more commonly found on a Dungeons & Dragons treasure table:
Among the benefit of Al-Ma’unah Inner Power can be listed as follows:
o For health and vitality, both physically and spiritually.
o Making an enemy/attacker to freeze on the spot and to be hurled sprawling backwards without being touch.
o Invincible from sharp objects, weapons, boiling water, fire etc.
o To transfer temporarily the inner energy to another object.
o Able to attain healing powers.
o Able to tie enemies without using rope.
o Able to hypnotise a violent aggressor to sleep or forget his intention.
o Able to pull back a fleeing snatch thief or robber from great distance (without physical body contact).
o Able to make attackers to drop to their knees or fall down with the blink of an eye.
o For marital bliss.
o Able to increase influence over others.