Posts filed under 'Activists'

1938: Vladimir Varankin, Esperantist

Add comment October 3rd, 2019 Headsman

Russian writer Vladimir Varankin was executed on this date in 1938, during Stalin’s purges.

Varankin got interested in the international Esperanto language movement as a secondary school student in Nizhny Novgorod during the ecstatic months following the Bolshevik Revolution, and he founded an Esperantist club there that soon reached throughout the province.* This was the high-water moment for the Esperanto movement, now 30 years mature since its founding: World War I had shattered the international system and spawned small states and revolutionary governments shaping a new world on the fly. Esperanto would have been adopted by the League of Nations for official use but for the furious resistance of jealous France.

For the same reason that it interested visionaries and radicals, the language attracted the suspicion of authoritarians; in Mein Kampf Hitler denounced Esperanto as an insidious Semitic project.

the language spoken at the time by the Jew … is never a means of expressing his thoughts, but for hiding them. When he speaks French, he thinks Jewish, and when he turns out German poetry, he only gives an outlet to the nature of his people.

As long as the Jew has not become the master of the other peoples, he must, whether he likes it or not, speak their languages, and only if they would be his slaves then they might all speak a universal language so that their domination will be made easier (Esperanto!).

Esperantists became targets for political persecution in the Third Reich as a result.

In Soviet Russia, the utopian 1920s offered a far more congenial scene. These were the years Varankin came into himself and as he advanced in life, so did his enthusiasm for the artificial tongue. The late 1920s find him living in Moscow, teaching at the pedagogical institute and churning out a corpus of Esperanto books (Theory of Esperanto, the ideologically calibrated Esperanto for Workers) as well as study curricula. His magnum opus, the 1933 novel Metropoliteno, was also composed in Esperanto.

But Stalin’s purge years soon cast a pall over Esperanto and much else besides — even though Stalin actually studied a little Esperanto himself in his youth, according to Trotsky. (Pray, good reader, for Koba’s Esperanto instructors.) In about 1937 he abruptly reversed the Soviet Union’s formerly benign view of Esperanto; now, the movement’s internationalism would be held to affiliate it with the purported foreign cabals whose subversions furnished the pretext for demolishing so many lives. In Varankin’s case, and facilitated by an unauthorized visit he had made to an Esperanto conference in Germany many years before, the charge — unanswerable in those terrible days — was that his Esperantist circles comprised a network of fascist spies and saboteurs overseen by enemies abroad.

The verdict against him was posthumously reversed in 1957.

* The regional environs of present-day Nizhny Novgorod Oblast, of which the city Nizhny Novgorod is the capital; in Varankin’s youth, this was a gubernia, a regional unit held over from the deposed imperial administration. Russia’s “states” were greatly redrawn and redefined during the first decade of the Soviet experiment, and gubernias were abolished in 1929.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Artists,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,History,Posthumous Exonerations,Russia,Shot,Torture,Treason,USSR

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2019: Ali Hakim al-Arab and Ahmad al-Mullali, Bahrain opposition

Add comment July 27th, 2019 Headsman

The Gulf state Bahrain shot three men this morning, including two young Shia activists whose condemnation became a worldwide cause celebre. (The third man was an unnamed individual convicted of killing an imam.)


Left: Ali Hakim al-Arab, right: Ahmad al-Mullali

The majority-Shia island, home to American and British military bases, has been ruled by the Sunni House of Khalifa since 1783. In those two-plus centuries, this dynasty has achieved Croesus-like wealth for itself and disproportionately directed the country’s vast oil revenues to a class of predominantly Sunni elites.

This simmering grievance exploded during the Arab Spring era in the form of a 2011 uprising; though these protests were violently squelched by troops requisitioned from Bahrain’s allied Gulf petrokingdoms Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, protests and opposition have continued ever since.

Many of the political prisoners arrested in this crackdown or subsequently were housed in Jau (or Jaw) Prison, notorious for overcrowding and torture. This prison in turn has become the target of numerous actual and attempted jailbreaks in the 2010s, with outside supporters trying to help imprisoned Shia dissidents escape.

The most daring and deadly of these was the January 1, 2017 raid by armed regime opponents that (temporarily) freed ten prisoners. The gunmen, who reportedly prepped for the operation by scouting the prison and environs with drones, slew a police officer during the escape.

Throughout the 2010s Bahrain has met every exertion of its opposition by heightened repression. Just weeks after this jailbreak, it extended military tribunals to civilian cases, a chilling threat to every dissident. And it made a massive example of the people who were allegedly involved in the Jau Prison outrage, both the escapees and the outside activists — all bracketed together under the expansive rubric of “terrorism”. (Bahrain judges have ruled that mere “moral pressure” can supply the violence necessary to qualify an act as terrorism.)

The result was a mass trial of 60 alleged jailbreak participants. There were two acquittals and 56 sub-capital sentences; Ali Hakim al-Arab and Ahmad al-Mullali earned the headlines with death sentences for killing an off-duty officer (not the one shot during the jailbreak). Most of those convicted also had their citizenship stripped into the bargain.

Both men submitted “confessions” under heavy torture, including beatings, electric shocks, having nails ripped out, and possibly even moral persuasion.

Human rights organizations around the world raised alarms yesterday with the ominous news that the men’s families had been summoned to visit their doomed relations at Jau Prison; in London, an activist scaled the Bahrain embassy to unveil a banner demanding clemency.

“One of Bahrain’s darkest days,” said Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy director Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei in a statement. “It appears that the Bahraini government planned this meticulously, timing the executions to coincide with US, EU and UK legislative recesses in order to avoid international scrutiny. These crimes only happened because of the unconditional support lent to dictator Hamad by Washington and London.”

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Activists,Bahrain,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,History,Murder,Ripped from the Headlines,Shot,Terrorists,Torture

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1952: Jan Bula, Czechoslovakian priest

Add comment May 20th, 2019 Headsman

Catholic priest Jan Bula was hanged on this date in 1952 at Jihlava

A Rokytnice pastor, Bula (English Wikipedia entry | the more detailed Czech and German) put himself in the gunsights of the postwar Communist state by defying its strictures on proselytization and commenting publicly against them.

Although perhaps a gadfly from the state’s perspective he was by no means a dissident consequential enough to have merited his eventual treatment; however, he was cruelly rolled into a notorious 1951 show trial called the Babice Case. Occasioned by a fatal raid launched by anti-Communist terrorists, the Babice trials targeted a huge number of ideological enemies and eventually resulted in 107 convictions and 11 death sentences.* Bula was among them, speciously condemned a traitor for complicity in the attack — a move that also opportunistically accelerated a case that state agents had for some time been attempting with little success to construct by means of entrapment.

“We human beings do not love God enough,” he wrote in a letter to his parents before his hanging. “That is the only thing for which we must ask forgiveness.”

The Catholic Church is currently considering this modern martyr for beatification.

* After the Cold War these sentences were retrospectively overturned or reduced, and a judge in the Babice case, Pavel Vitek, was prosecuted for his role in it.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Czechoslovakia,Death Penalty,Execution,God,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Power,Religious Figures,Treason,Wrongful Executions

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2010: Four Kurdish political prisoners

Add comment May 9th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 2010, Iran hanged five political prisoners — four of them Kurdish — in Evin Prison.

The non-Kurd was Mehdi Eslamian, condemned a terrorist for complicity in a notorious 2008 terrorist bombing in Shiraz, an incident for which his younger brother had already been hanged a year previous.

With him died Farzad Kamangar, Ali Heydarian, Farhad Vakili, and Shirin Alam Holi, all of them Kurdish dissidents of various descriptions.

Farzad Kamangar was a popular 32-year-old teacher, who might have been the most publicly visible member of this quintet to judge by media hits and tributary pop music.

Shirin Alam Holi, a woman from the area of “Kurdistan” reaching into western Iran’s Azerbaijan province, was condemned for affiliation with the PKK front Kurdistan Free Life Party. A letter allegedly written by her a few months before execution detailed the abuse she endured in custody:

I was arrested in April 2008 in Tehran. The arrest was made by uniformed and plain clothed members of Sepah who started beating me as soon as we arrived at their headquarters without even asking one question. In total I spent twenty five days at Sepah. I was on hunger strike for twenty two of those days during which time I endured all forms of physical and psychological torture. My interrogators were men and I was tied to the bed with handcuffs. They would hit and kick my face and head, my body and the soles of my feet and use electric batons and cables in their beatings. At the time I didn’t even speak or understand Farsi properly. When their questions were left unanswered they would hit me until I pass out. They would stop as soon as they would hear the call for prayers and would give me time until their return for as they said to come to my senses only to start their beatings as soon as they returned – again beatings, passing out, iced water …

When they realised I was insistent on my hunger strike, they tried to break it by inserting tubes through my nose to my stomach and intravenous feeding; they tried to break my [hunger] strike by force. I would resist and pull out the tubes which resulted in bleeding and a great deal of pain and now after two years I’m still suffering the consequences and am in pain.

One day while interrogating me they kicked me so hard in the stomach that it resulted in immediate haemorrhaging. Another day, one of the interrogators came to me – the only one whose face I saw, I was blindfolded all other times – and asked irrelevant questions. When he heard no reply he slapped me and took out his pistol from his belt and put it to my head, “You will answer the questions I ask of you. I already know you are a member of PJAK, that you are a terrorist. See girl, talking or not talking makes no difference. We’re happy to have a member of PJAK in our captivity”.

On one of the occasions that the doctor was brought to see to my injuries I was only half conscious because of all the beatings. The doctor asked my interrogator to transfer me to the hospital. The interrogator asked, “why should she be treated in hospital, can’t she be treated here?” The doctor said, “I don’t mean for treatment. In hospital I will do something for you to make her sing like a canary.” The next day they took me to hospital in handcuffs and blindfold. The doctor put me on a bed and injected me. I lost my will and answered everything they asked in the manner they wanted and they filmed the whole thing. When I came to I asked them where I was and realised I was still on a hospital bed and then they transferred me back to my cell.

But it was as if this was not enough for my interrogators and they wanted me to suffer more. They kept me standing up on my injured feet until they would swell completely and then they would give me ice. From night till morning I would hear screams, moans, people crying out loud and these voices upset me and me nervous. Later, I realised these were recordings played to make me suffer. Or for hours on end cold water would be dripped slowly on my head and they would return me to the cell at night.

One day I was sitting blindfold and was being interrogated. The interrogator put out his cigarette on my hand; or one day he pressed and stood on my toes for so long that my nails turned black and fell off; or they would make me stand all day in the interrogation room without asking me any questions while they filled in crossword puzzles. In short they did everything possible.

When they returned me from hospital they decided I should be transferred to 209. But because of my physical condition and that I couldn’t even walk 209 refused to accept me. They kept me for a whole day in that condition by the door of 209 until I was transferred to the clinic.

What else? I couldn’t tell night from day anymore. I don’t know how many days I was kept at Evin Clinic until my wounds were a little improved and was transferred to 209 and interrogations started. The interrogators at 209 had their own methods and techniques – what they called hot and cold policy. First of all, the brutal interrogator would come in. He would intimidate me threaten and torture me. he would tell me that he cared for no law and that he would do what he wanted with me and … then the kind interrogator would come in and ask him to stop treating me in this way. He would offer me a cigarette and then the questions would be repeated and the futile cycle would start all over again.

While I was at 209 especially at the beginning when I was interrogated, when I wasn’t well or had a nose bleed they would inject me with a pain killer and keep me in the cell. I would sleep the whole day. They wouldn’t take me out of the cell or take me to the clinic…

Shirin Alam Hoolo?Nesvan Wing, Evin?28/10/88 (18 January 2010)

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Iran,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities

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1926: Iskilipli Mehmed Atif Hoca, headstrong

Add comment February 4th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1926, a man went to the gallows over his headwear.

An Islamic religious scholar, Iskilipli Mehmed Atif Hoca (English Wikipedia entry | German) was deeply out of step with the secular-nationalist turn of Atatürk‘s Turkey.

Among Ataturk’s many modernizing reforms was a 1925 law banning traditional fezzes and turbans in favor of western lids — part of a much more comprehensive project to push religious authorities out of public influence.

Our man Iskilipli had already in 1924 taken his stand athwart history in the form of a pamphlet titled Frenk Mukallitligi ve Sapka (Westernization and the Hat) — essentially arguing that the fashion choice implicitly licensed all the un-Islamic decadences of European civilization. He was arrested within a month of the Hat Law’s passage, by which time the Turkish government had already encountered violent opposition to the new hats in some areas. Refusing to defend himself before an “Independence Tribunal” whose verdict was preordained, he was hanged on February 4.

Several other people were executed for opposing the Hat Law, with others incurring long prison sentences. (“Eight others were executed in Rize, seven in Maras and four in Erzurum,” according to a March 2, 2010 article from the now-defunct English-language Turkey newspaper Today’s Zaman)

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Power,Religious Figures,Turkey

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1941: Viggo Hasteen and Rolf Wickstrom, for the Milk Strike

Add comment September 10th, 2018 Headsman

On September 10, 1941, the German authorities occupying Norway martyred two labor activists.

The Third Reich occupied Norway in the spring of 1940, adding their puppet ruler’s surname to the world’s lexicon.


Rations queue in Oslo, 1941.

Besides the obvious consequences — national humiliation, political executions — the occupation brought terrible economic hardship to ordinary Norwegians. Most of Norway’s western-facing trading relationships were severed by the wartime takeover, and the lion’s share of national output was appropriated by Berlin. Norway’s GDP fell by nearly half during the war years.

“There was a real risk of famine,” Wikipedia advises us. “Many, if not most, Norwegians started growing their own crops and keeping their own livestock. City parks were divided among inhabitants, who grew potatoes, cabbage, and other hardy vegetables. People kept pigs, rabbits, chicken and other poultry in their houses and out-buildings. Fishing and hunting became more widespread.”

And people got more and more pissed off.

On September 8, shipyard workers protesting the withdrawal of their milk rations triggered a large, but brief, labor disturbance. The Milk Strike was violently quashed by September 10 with a declaration of martial law in Oslo and nearby Aker and the arrests of a number of labor leaders, five of whom were condemned to death.

Two of those five sentences were actually carried out:* those of lawyer and Communist Viggo Hansteen (English Wikipedia entry | Norwegian), and labor activist Rolf Wickstrom (English | Norwegian).

They’re honored today in Oslo with a monumental joint tombstone and a memorial.

* Generous commutations awarded to Ludvik Buland and Harry Vestli permitted them to die in prison before the war was out. Their comrade Josef Larsson survived the war and chaired the Norwegian Union of Iron and Metalworkers until 1958.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,Lawyers,Norway,Occupation and Colonialism,Rioting,Shot,Wartime Executions

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1952: Mustafa Khamis and Muhammad al-Baqri, Egyptian labor activists

3 comments September 7th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1952, Egypt’s revolutionary military government sent a gallows warning to the labor movement.

The towering political figure of the whole Arab world until his death in 1970, Gamal Abdel Nasser led a coup that toppled Egypt’s monarchy just weeks prior to the execution we mark here. (On July 23, 1952; it’s known for that reason as the July 23 Revolution.)

They had bold plans for their countrymen, these young officers: egalitarian land reform, pan-Arabism, release from the hated grip of colonialism.

But don’t mistake that for an invitation to present just any grievance.

the Free Officers were not willing to tolerate a militant, independent trade union movement. The armed forces and workers clashed in Kafr al-Dawwar, 15 miles south of Alexandria. On August 12 and 13, 1952, the 9,000 workers at the Misr Fine Spinning and Weaving Company conducted a strike and demonstration seeking a freely elected union (a pro-company, yellow union had been established in 1943), removal of several managers considered particularly abusive, and the satisfaction of economic demands. Despite the workers’ proclaimed support for the new regime, the army quickly intervened to crush them. A rapidly convened military tribunal convicted 13 workers. Eleven received prison sentences; Mustafa Khamis and Muhammad al-Baqri were sentenced to death and executed on September 7. (Source)

Nasserite Egypt quashed independent labor organizing in these early years, eventually banning all union activity outside of the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Egypt,Execution,Hanged,History,Power,Treason

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2016: Mir Quasem Ali

Add comment September 3rd, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 2016, Bangladesh hanged tycoon Mir Quasem Ali for crimes against humanity committed during that country’s 1971 War of Independence from Pakistan.

Known at the time of his death as the wealthiest patron of the party Jamaat-e-Islami, Mir Quasem Ali was in 1971 a first-year physics student at Chittagong College.

This cataclysmic year saw “East Pakistan” — as it was then known — separated from Pakistan amid an infamous bloodbath, and it was for this bloodbath that Ali hanged 45 years later. At the time, he was a member of the Islamist student organization Islami Chattra Shangha;* in the autumn of 1971, that organ was tapped for recruits to the pro-Pakistan paramilitary Al-Badr which helped carry out wholesale massacres. Some three million people are thought to have died during this war.

The court that noosed him found that Ali helped to orchestrate the abductions of pro-independence activists to a three-story hotel in Chittagong commandeered from a Hindu family. Victims there were tortured and some murdered, although others survived to tell of Al-Badr guards announcing the defendant’s arrival with the words “Mr Quasem is here. Mr Commander is here,” seemingly establishing quite a high degree of responsibility for events under that roof.

After a bad result in the war, he fled to Saudi Arabia and embarked on the business career that would see him into the global oligarchy as a billionaire media mogul and (once back in Bangladesh) the chief financier of the chief Islamist party. When a score-settling Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed initiated a tribunal to try human rights crimes from the 1971 war, Mir Quasem Ali immediately started spreading millions around Washington D.C. lobby shops in an unsuccessful bid to use international pressure to shut down the proceedings.

He maintained his innocence to the last, even refusing to seek a presidential clemency since that would have entailed an admission of guilt. These trials, several of which have ended at the gallows, have been intensely controversial within Bangladesh, and without.

* Its present-day successor organization is Bangladesh Islami Chhatra Shibir … which was founded in 1977, by Mir Quasem Ali.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Activists,Bangladesh,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Crimes Against Humanity,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Kidnapping,Murder,Notable Jurisprudence,Occupation and Colonialism,Ripped from the Headlines,Terrorists

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1951: Arno Esch, liberal

Add comment July 24th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1951, liberal East German activist Arno Esch was shot in Lubyanka Prison outside of Moscow.

Plaque at the University of Rostock honoring Esch. (cc) image by Schiwago.

Just 17 when World War II ended, Esch emerged as a leading student activist for the Liberal Democratic Party in the postwar Soviet Occupation Zone — a pacifist who advocated political liberalization and civil rights.

These weren’t times for any common fronts: “a liberal Chinese is closer to me than a German communist,” Esch remarked, denoting a clear and present danger in the communist zone: his party attempted in vain to form a coalition across the nascent Iron Curtain with its like-minded brethren in the western zones.

Esch was arrested in 1949 and prosecuted as a spy and counterrevolutionary by a Soviet military tribunal.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,East Germany,Execution,Germany,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Shot

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1974: Leyla Qasim, Bride of Kurdistan

1 comment May 12th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1974, Kurdish activist Leyla Qasim was hanged by the Ba’ath regime in Baghdad.

A middle daughter among four brothers from the heavily Kurdish Khanaqin district, Qasim joined the Kurdish Student Union as a student at Baghdad University in the early 1970s.

The Iraqi government had fought a running war against Kurdish rebels throughout the 1960s, resolved only by a tenuous truce; by the spring of 1974 armed conflict began again.

Visible Kurdish activists living right in the capital became a natural target.

Qasim and four male companions were arrested in late April, accused of plotting against Iraq (various accounts have this down to a hijacking scheme or cogitating the murder of Saddam Hussein). They were tortured, condemned in a televised trial, and executed together.

She purportedly gave her family the last words of a proper martyr: “I am going to be [the] Bride of Kurdistan and embrace it.”

She’s still regarded as a Kurdish heroine and many families confer her name on their daughters.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Famous,Hanged,History,Iraq,Kurdistan,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Torture,Treason,Wartime Executions,Women

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