1969: Equatorial Guinea’s Christmas Eve executions

3 comments December 24th, 2017 Headsman

A story from the 1970s Equatorial Guinea dictatorship of eventual Executed Today client Francisco Macias Nguema, via Suzanne Cronjé’s out-of-print 1976 volume Equatorial Guinea, the forgotten dictatorship: forced labour and political murder in central Africa.

a first batch of murderers were unskilfully hanged at Bata on the mainland early in December while another group met their end in Fernando Po [the island also known as Bioko, home to Equatorial Guinea’s capital city Malabo -ed.] on Christmas Eve. After a kind of public trial before most of the Cabinet in which assembled population was asked to endorse the verdict, they were shot or hanged to the strains of Mary Hopkin singing ‘Those were the days’ over the loudspeaker system.

The Headsman must admit to being flummoxed at the slipperiness of dependable primary sourcing for this extraordinarily picturesque event: as Cronje’s source notes, “the government probably only gets away with them because so little ever gets out about its doings.”

Many sites around this Internet situate the event on Christmas Eve of 1975. This appears to me unambiguously mistaken; Cronje’s narrative quotes its information from a February 1970 Financial Times report, and the Mary Hopkin detail also better fits the earlier date. (Her song was a hit in 1968.) However, it’s possible that distinct seasonal events were conflated between the years, for the 1970s were years of terrifying purges in Equatorial Guinea that claimed tens of thousands of lives.

Christmas Eve 1969 is also the date reported by Randall Fegley in Equatorial Guinea: An African Tragedy (1989) although in Fegley’s telling the nostalgic soundtrack accompanied that ugly early December execution, not the one on Christmas eve. Wikipedia’s entry for Macias Nguema asserts as of this writing that the shootings were carried out by executioners dressed as Santa Claus; the only hint of textual authority I have located for this outlandish detail points to a 1981 Human Rights Quarterly article by Fegley which I cannot access. (Update: In fact, Fegley’s article makes no claim about Saint Nick getup. Thanks to cz for the comment.)

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Equatorial Guinea,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Public Executions,Shot

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1969: Alexandre Banza, Central African Republic politician

Add comment April 12th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1969, the Central African Republic’s dictator Jean-Bedel Bokassa had his number two condemned for plotting against him, and summarily shot.

Back on New Year’s Eve of 1965, Alexandre Banza had been on the same team as Bokassa in the conspiring business — achieving a rapid promotion from Captain when he leveraged his command of the Camp Kassai military base in support of Bokassa’s successful coup against his (Bokassa’s) cousin, David Dacko.

This was a great career move for Captain Banza, who speedily became Colonel Banza and the Minister of State and Minister of Finance to boot. But it wasn’t long before this made man looked to Bokassa like his main threat.

Notorious for his vanity — a few years after the events of this post, Bokassa, an unabashed admirer of Napoleon, would proclaim himself Emperor of the “Central African Empire” — the chief looked askance at his finance minister’s willingness to challenge Bokassa’s profligacy. Over the year or two prior to Banza’s execution, Bokassa maneuvered to push him away from power … and Banza maneuvered to create a power base for himself from which to launch his own putsch.

In the end it was Camp Kassai that played the decisive role once again. The guy with Banza’s old job as camp commandant, one Lt. Jean-Claude Mandaba, was supposed to be in on the plan, but on the eve of the intended April 9, 1969 coup, he tipped off Bokassa.

“The following afternoon Banza arrived at Camp Kassai with plans for the coup in his pocket,” writes Brian Titley in his Dark Age: The Political Odyssey of Emperor Bokassa:

As he stepped from his car, Mandaba and a couple of soldiers grabbed him. So fiercely did he struggle to escape that the soldiers had to break one of his arms before overpowering him. The ambushers then tied him up, stuffed him the trunk of a Mercedes, and took him to meet the man he had sought to depose. … [Bokassa] was jubilant at the sight of his former companion-in-arms being brought to him in chains. Banza was in poor shape after the journey to Berengo, but his torments were only beginning. Bokassa launched the interrogation by beating the prisoner almost senseless with his ever-present walking stick.

Bokassa was only narrowly dissuaded from thrashing this turncoat to death on the spot, and instead consented to a pro forma military tribunal — although rumors of the pre-death punishment visited on Banza once he was captured have muddied the waters quite a bit. Banza was reportedly hailed before the Cabinet and personally brutalized by Bokassa; Le Monde even reported that he’d been outright killed in this meeting and dragged through the streets by soldiers.

Bokassa was deposed by the French in 1979,* and condemned to death in absentia the following year. The former strongman voluntarily returned from exile in 1986 to face trial for a variety of abuses during his reign; his treatment of Alexandre Banza — and that of Banza’s family, a number of whom were arrested and some “disappeared” — formed part of the very extensive charge sheet. Though sentenced to death himself in that trial, Bokassa’s sentence was eventually commuted. The ex-emperor lived out his last years in a private home of his former capital.

* France’s “last colonial expedition,” in the words of one of her diplomats.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Central African Republic,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Politicians,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Treason

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1969: Liu Shaoqi dies under torture

2 comments November 12th, 2013 Headsman

At 6:45 a.m. on this date in 1969, the Chinese Marxist statesman and intellectual Liu Shaoqi passed away secretly in a room of the Kaifeng Municipal Revolutionary Committee building.

He had not been executed in the literal sense. But his death was the mere bodily consequence of an Orwellian civic annihilation: the onetime President of China, fallen to unperson. Like the Man in the Iron Mask, his identity was secret from his own guards (and later from the crematorium workers who disposed of the remains); his own children did not learn of his death until 1972.

A Communist revolutionary from student days in the early 1920s, Liu was among the first to publicly turn against Mao’s Great Leap Forward. In 1959 Liu succeeded Mao as President of the People’s Republic of China, and led the walkback from the Great Leap’s destructive stab at modernization.

A years-long factional struggle within the Chinese Communist Party would ensue, pitting Maoists against a more reform-minded clique.

Liu and the reformers got the worst of it in the 1960s. Mao and Maoists seized power back in the 1966 Cultural Revolution, and purged Liu as a “capitalist roader” — “China’s Khrushchev” ran one denunciation.

The renegade, hidden traitor and scab Liu Shaoqi and other sham Marxists and political swindlers … dished up the theory of taking the electronics industry as the center … They also said, “The development of a modern electronics industry will bring about a leap forward in our industry, and it will be a starting point for a new industrial revolution in the history of China.” This is a reactionary principle for opposing the principle of taking steel as the key link.*

Liu endured months of frightful public harassment leading up to his September 1967 arrest: there were episodes when Mao’s “Red Guards” broke into his official residence and even plastered Liu’s own walls with anti-Liu placards,** as well as “struggling against” campaigns with mobs of anti-Liu demonstrators hurling abuse while Liu was made to stand in a pose of contrition. The formal allegations, for whatever such things are worth, were that Liu worked as a World War II traitor for the Americans, Japanese, and/or nationalists.†

Liu was badly mistreated in custody, possibly as a way to kill him off extrajudicially or just for the sadistic pleasure of bringing one who once stood so high to the depths of literally wallowing in his own shit. By summer 1968 Liu was suffering from pneumonia, cankered with bedsores, and could only be fed through a nasal tube. His neglectful medical care gradually wasted him to death.

Mao himself died in 1976. A reformist and onetime Liu ally, Deng Xiaoping, eventually emerged as China’s post-Mao leader. Soon thereafter the Chinese Communist Party officially rehabilitated Liu and declared several of his writings, so recently forbidden, to be “Marxist works of great significance.” He has remained an official hero, and political martyr, ever since.

* 1971 salvo quoted in Lowell Dittmer, “Death and Transfiguration: Liu Shaoqi’s Rehabilitation and Contemporary Chinese Politics,” The Journal of Asian Studies, May 1981.

** “The Kuomintang vilified me for years but never used such language,” recalled Liu’s wife — who survived a decade in prison herself after her husband’s fall.

† Mao’s widow would later admit that thousands of people were detailed to comb through the records of the Japanese occupation in search of anything prejudicial to Liu.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",China,Heads of State,History,Martyrs,Politicians,Power

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1969: Lee Soogeun, North Korean defector

Add comment July 3rd, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1969, alleged North Korean operative Lee Soogeun (other transliterations exist for his given name, such as Soo Keun or Soo-geun) was hanged at a Seoul prison for espionage.

A North Korean party elite, Lee was the Vice President of the North Korean Central News Agency.

On March 22, at the Military Armistice Commission meetings at the border outpost of Panmunjom, Lee suddenly leapt into a UN official’s vehicle and escaped over the frontier.

The high-profile defector got a hero’s welcome in the South. (A U.S. Army captain also copped a medal for helping him escape.)

Lee hit the lecture circuit critically discussing the situation north of the 38th parallel, and worked as an analyst for South Korean intelligence.

However, the KCIA also had Lee under surveillance, and came to believe that he was actually gathering intelligence to send to the north. Realizing his predicament, Lee fled with his niece for Cambodia. They were captured en route in Vietnam.

South Korea’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has, while stopping short of exonerating Lee, ruled his confinement illegal, and the self-incriminating statements he made in that environment insufficient evidence, and urged his case be re-tried. Lee’s niece served 20 years of a life sentence as his accomplice, but was released in 1989 and eventually won a 6.8 billion won wrongful imprisonment suit.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,Hanged,History,Intellectuals,Korea,North Korea,South Korea,Spies,Wrongful Executions

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1969: Joseph Blösche, Der SS-Mann

3 comments July 29th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1969, Joseph Blösche was executed in Leipzig, German Democratic Republic, for his part in the Holocaust.


Blösche (far right) chills out at the Warsaw Ghetto with, among others, Jurgen Stroop (fourth from right, in profile).

Blösche (English Wikipedia entry | German) was an SS Rottenführer and a Nazi Party member whose particular contribution to deporting Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka was fitting in some opportunistic rape, typically followed with summary murder. The ghetto’s wards called him “Frankenstein”.

Blösche was eventually captured by the Red Army, which you’d think might augur ill for his survival prospects. However, with the aid of a horrible accident he suffered in a postwar labor camp that helpfully disfigured his face, Blösche managed to fade quietly into East German society, wed, and raise a family.

He would need that facial anonymity, because the un-disfigured version is there full-frontal gazing over his submachine gun in one of the war’s most iconic and chilling images — snapped for the benefit of the Stroop report documenting the ghetto’s liquidation.


An SS trooper, eventually identified as Joseph Blösche, looms over a frightened Jewish boy in the Warsaw Ghetto. (The child might be one of Artur Dab Siemiatek, Levi Zelinwarger, Israel Rondel, or Tsvi Nussbaum)

This photo was published in the U.S. in Life magazine on November 28, 1960. The terrible image haunted Holocaust survivor Peter Fischl into writing his poem “The Little Polish Boy”.

Blösche’s luck ran out when his name came up in a West German war crimes trial in 1961; East Germany’s follow-up eventually zeroed in on the man, and he was convicted in April 1969 for directly killing up to 2,000 people, and participating in deportations that killed 300,000 more. He was executed in Leipzig with a single shot to the neck.

Joseph Blösche is the subject of the German documentary Der SS-Mann (there’s also a book of the same title).

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,East Germany,Execution,Germany,History,Shot,Soldiers,War Crimes

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1969: Nahashon Isaac Njenga Njoroge, assassin of Tom Mboya

7 comments November 8th, 2010 Headsman

At 3 a.m. this date in 1969 at a Nairobi prison that Nahashon Isaac Njenga Njoroge swung for assassinating Kenyan Luo politician Tom Mboya earlier that year … never clarifying the cryptic question he uttered to the authorities, “Why don’t you go after the big man?”

“No African leader has an abler brain or a stronger will,” wrote one Englishwoman who knew Mboya during his lifetime.*

A trade unionist during the waning days of British authority, the ethnically Luo Mboya had become a leading anti-colonial figure as the ethnically Kikuyu Mau Mau were suppressed.

During Kenya’s last years as a British possession, Mboya organized the African American Students Foundation, to provide scholarships for students from British East Africa to study in the United States.

(It was on Mboya’s AASF program — funded by John F. Kennedy — that a promising young Kenyan economics student named Barack Obama studied at the University of Hawaii in the 1960-61 academic year, and got an American girl pregnant. The reader will be familiar with those semesters’ legacy.)

Upon Kenyan independence, Mboya became a Member of Parliament and a cabinet officer, holding the Economic Planning and Development portfolio until he was gunned down on the streets outside a pharmacy on July 5, 1969.

Mboya’s murder by Njoroge,** a youth activist for the Kikuyu-dominated Kenya African National Union party (KANU) that Mboya himself had also joined, was widely read as President Jomo Kenyatta consolidating his own grip on the country and eliminating potential rivals.†

Mboya certainly had the talent and ambition to aspire to leadership in Kenya; little wonder that anger among his Luo people boiled over when Mboya was laid to rest.

Njoroge’s hanging during the pre-dawn hours this date — just days after Kenyatta banned the Luo-based opposition party, making Kenya into a one-party state — was conducted in secret; word only got out in late November, and even then it was not through an official announcement.

Njoroge remains the official lone gunman in this case, the only person ever held to judicial account for Tom Mboya’s convenient elimination. Decades later, however, many are still searching for the real story.

* From the London Times‘ unsigned July 7, 1969 obituary of Mboya.

** Allegedly by Njoroge; the assassin was not caught on the scene and Njoroge denied pulling the trigger, telling the court that Mboya was his longtime friend. (London Times, September 10, 1969) There are plenty who consider Njoroge a fall guy.

Pio Gama Pinto (1965) and Josiah Mwangi Kariuki (1975) were similar

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Kenya,Murder,Notable for their Victims

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1969: Sirhan Sirhan condemned

4 comments April 23rd, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1969, Sirhan Sirhan was condemned to the California gas chamber for assassinating Robert F. Kennedy.

The aggrieved Palestinian was not marked by fate to suffer that last extremity of the law, however; instead, his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment when all existing death penalty statutes were invalidated in 1972.*

As a result, Sirhan Sirhan remains alive as of this writing, serving that sentence in the Golden State’s Pleasant Valley State Prison. He’ll be next up for parole in 2011.

(In a parole appeal back in 1982 — he’s been on a bit of a losing streak — the convicted assassin had the chutzpah to complain that “if Robert Kennedy were alive today, I believe he would not countenance singling me out for this kind of treatment.”)

Although the guy was seen in a crowded room pulling the trigger (onlookers tackled him) and he subsequently confessed to the deed, there has long been a conspiratorial counternarrative suggesting that other shooters were there, too. It’s pretty hard to say that the guy who emptied his chamber in front of dozens of witnesses wasn’t involved, but there are versions of this where he’s a Manchurian Candidate-style hypnotized patsy.

Politics: much more interesting in the 1960s.

Precisely because that is so, this particular man’s crime attracts retrospective interest for what followed: the charismatic Democratic frontrunner from Camelot cut down; the sinister Richard Nixon arising in his place to bomb Cambodia, burgle Watergate, and create the Environmental Protection Agency. Sirhan Sirhan “assassinated modern U.S. history.”

That really seems a bit much.

Sirhan Sirhan himself has contributed to the trippy theorizing about his case by being all over the map on it. At one point, he attempted to plead guilty and draw the death penalty; the trial judge forced him to go through with a defense. Subsequently, as noted, he’s whinged for an early release. He’s claimed to have had no memory of the attack, which certainly isn’t what he said after he got arrested.

Ultimately, the most self-evident explanation has always been the first one that he offered: “I did it for my country.”

Sirhan was a Jerusalem-born Palestinian dismayed by Israel’s success in the Six-Day War, and by America’s concomitant foreign policy tilt towards Israel.

Kennedy was a strong advocate of that policy, and his death happened to coincide with the anniversary of war.

Maybe that’s just what they want you to think. But it has to be allowed that the cause in question has claimed more lives than just RFK’s.

* People v. Anderson, decided by the California Supreme Court. Later that same year, the U.S. Supreme Court would issue Furman v. Georgia, which would have had the same effect for Sirhan Sirhan.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,California,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Gassed,History,Infamous,Murder,Not Executed,Notable for their Victims,Popular Culture,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Terrorists,USA

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