1973: Tom Masaba, Sebastino Namirundu, and 10 other Uganda Fronsana rebels

Add comment February 10th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1973, 12 actual or supposed Ugandan guerrillas opposing the Idi Amin dictatorship were shot in groups of one or two at various places around the country — having been condemned just days before in military trials for terrorism and assassination plots.

The Fronasa rebel movement was a new player on the Uganda political scene, and it drew a ferocious government response. Idi Amin’s regime was reluctant even to dignify its opposition by naming it, but it certainly made no secret about the punishments. “The public are to attend,” said the official announcement, ominously. (London Times, Feb. 8, 1973.)

“The execution by firing squad that has been carried out today is a real lesson to the people of Uganda to know that involvement in guerrilla activities means loss of life,” a military spokesman explained, unnecessarily. (Times, Feb. 12) Just to make sure the public turned up thoroughly for the lesson, the shootings were filmed and televised.

There’s an extensive photographic series of at least one set of executions — that of Tom Mabasa and Sebastino Namirundu in Mbale. It’s viewable here. Per the image captions,

Masaba and Namirundu were interrogated, stripped naked, fitted with short white aprons and tied to their execution posts. Masaba, who was accused of being a terrorist, was reported to have said, “Let those, like me, who are killing innocent people in the country, come out and report to the authorities.”

The book Battles of the Ugandan Resistance contains an account of Namirundu’s capture. According to the author, Namirundu was a mere bystander whe Ugandan troops arrived to his area trying to arrest rebel leader (and present-day Uganda president) Yoweri Museveni. Museveni gave them the slip, but as soldiers rudely searched houses, the teenaged Namirundu made a panicked run to get away from them, which act was taken as self-incrimination and led him to the stake.

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1973: Lim Seng, under Philippines martial law

1 comment January 15th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1973,* under the then-new martial law regime of Philippines strongman Ferdinand Marcos, a 52-year-old Chinese businessman was shot at Fort Bonifacio.**

Lim Seng was a struggling restauranteur in the 1960s when he dove into the heroin business.

He wasn’t struggling much longer.

He quickly became the Walter White of Manila heroin production, exploiting ties to criminal syndicates in the Golden Triangle to churn out (by the early 1970s) 1.2 tons of smack. Ninety percent of it was exported to the United States. (.pdf source on Lim Seng’s criminal career)

The other 10% helped feed a burgeoning heroin addiction among Manila students, leading to a seminal 1972 anti-drug law under which Lim Seng was arrested days after martial law came down that September. He faced a military, rather than a civilian trial.

Naturally quite wealthy from his enterprise, he evidently believed up until the last moments that he could buy his way out of execution. Little did he understand that he had been ticketed to demonstrate the incipient dictatorship’s iron fist: thousands of civilian spectators crowded the ropeline of the rifle range to glimpse the garishly publicized ceremony, while others took in the radio broadcast or news footage.


(via)

Lim Seng was the first person executed by the Marcos regime for drug trafficking.

* Lim Seng was tried in December 1972, and some sources report this as his execution date. Contemporary newspaper accounts unambiguously confirm that the execution took place on January 15, 1973.

** Fort Andres Bonifacio, formerly a base of the U.S. occupation called Fort McKinley, was christened for an executed Filipino patriot.

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1970: Udilberto Vasquez Bautista, Peruvian popular saint

1 comment September 11th, 2013 Headsman

Early this morning in 1970, in the prison at Cajamarca, Peru, Ubilberto Vasquez Bautista was shot for the slaughter of a young shepherdess.

The young girl — either 9 or 11 years old — had been raped, then stabbed 27 times.

Udilberto Vasquez was found with some blood incriminatingly all over his underwear. Though he never admitted guilt, his story went through a few iterations, one of which entailed pointing the finger at his brother. (… with whom he shared underwear, I guess.)

Basically desperate for any angle, his attorney pushed that as a defense.

“Without intending it, I contributed to the creation of the myth,” he said later, according to Frank Graziano’s Cultures of Devotion: Folk Saints of Spanish America.* We’ll get to that myth in a moment.

As one might readily infer from his presence on these pages, not that defense nor any other sufficed to save his client’s life.

Rather, Vasquez became the first victim (Spanish link, as are nearly all those that follow) of draconian new legislation imposed by the Juan Velasco Alvarado dictatorship reinstating capital punishment for fatal sexual assaults on particularly young victims.** This law was only in place from 1969 to 1973, so it was bad timing as much as anything for Udilberto Vasquez. (Peru’s 1979 constitution would restrict the death penalty to wartime treason.)

So at 6 a.m. this date, and still having never confessed guilt, Vasquez was shot. A dog barked in the distance; a cock crowed out its protest. Etc.

In execution, Vasquez joined the curious pantheon of Latin American folk saints comprised of ordinarily criminals widely considered innocent. Vasquez had converted in prison to the Adventist Church, and some fellow inmates believed he had the power to work miracles.

Latter-day supplicants hoping for same crowd to a mausoleum-shrine, especially on Nov. 1, All Saints’ Day. He’s credited with many miracles rescuing the health and fortunes of devotees.†

Such divine providence necessarily implies a view of its author’s innocence in that whole rape-murder thing. Among followers, the attorney’s notion of Vasquez’s brother’s culpability — and still more, the sacrificial concept that Vasquez willingly gave himself to protect his brother (which seems at odds with Vasquez blaming his brother) — has improved into a mythic truism.

Vasquez is the subject of a film by Hector Marreros, Milagroso Udilberto Vasquez.

For a more academic take, check this short Spanish-language article (pdf) by Nanda Leonardini.

* In addition to the book, Graziano has a fascinating site on his investigations into folk religiosity in the Spanish Americas, CulturesOfDevotion.com.

** Ironically, it was doubts about the guilt of the last guy shot for a rape-murder that had caused that law to be rescinded.

Click here for a photo gallery of Udilberto devotions/festivities.

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1976: Christian Ranucci, never yet rehabilitated

Add comment July 28th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1976, Christian Ranucci, 22, was guillotined in Marseilles … with the last words addressed to his attorneys, “Réhabilitez-moi”.

If that has not yet occurred, it has not been for want of trying.

Many people think Ranucci was the last person executed by France; in fact, this is not correct. But the confusion is understandable: Ranucci has persisted in the headlines and the public imagination owing to a running controversy over whether he was wrongly convicted. It’s a vexing case rife with ambiguous circumstantial evidence, and observers are usually able to see in it what they want to see.

On June 3, 1974, two incidents — a minor traffic accident, and the request by a young man of a local mushroomer to help his car out of a muddy gallery where it was stuck — placed a gray Peugeot 304 at La Pomme, outside Marseilles. This also happened to be the date that 8-year-old Maria-Dolores Rambla was abducted from St. Agnes by an unknown man in a red sweater reportedly driving a gray Simca 1100, a vehicle that would be possible to mix up with the Peugeot 304.

When news of the abduction broke on the radio the morning of June 4, the people who saw the Peugeot(s) later called it in as a tip.

Police got to the bespectacled young Ranucci (English Wikipedia entry | French; most of the links from here on out are French) via the accident. His car didn’t stop for the other motorist, but limped on down the road another kilometer. The other driver’s vehicle was inoperable, but that driver sent a passerby to follow the hit-and-run Peugeot’s path to see if he could track down a license plate number. Indeed he did do that.

And when that good citizen called police, he said he had seen the driver running into the nearby woods with either a sizable package or a small child. (The story has … evolved.) You can see where this is going: when the area was searched after the tip came in, poor Maria’s dead body was steps away from the spot the car stopped. She’d been knifed to death.

The mushroom-gallery, for its part, yielded up a red pullover sweater like the one the abductor wore, and a bloody knife.

After 17 hours’ grilling by the police, Ranucci broke down and confessed. He would later retract the confession, blaming police pressure. (Here in 2013, everybody does know — right? — that false confessions happen with alarming frequency, and that they’re widely associated with exonerations.)

As open-and-shut as this sounds, Ranucci’s many defenders have found a great deal wanting in the case

Journalist Gilles Perrault has been on about this case for decades. His L’ombre de Christian Ranucci drew a 50,000 euro judgment for defaming the Marseilles police.

Among the sticking-points for skeptics:

  • There’s the inconsistency in the reported make and model of the vehicle vis-a-vis what Ranucci was driving.
  • None of the eyewitnesses to the abduction could identify Ranucci in a lineup … until the lineup was pared down to make it a gimme. Sloppy lineup work has been a significant factor in wrongful convictions; on the other hand, eyewitnesses are extremely unreliable in general.
  • The recovered red pullover was much too small for Ranucci, possibly suggesting that this apparent link to the observed abductor did not reach all the way to the accused.
  • Mr. Red Pullover Simca 1100 was allegedly seen attempting other abductions at times and places that made it certain that he was not Christian Ranucci.
  • Questionable handling of physical evidence by investigators.

That’s basically just to scratch the surface. Here (pdf) is a much lengthier exegesis of the potentially exculpatory evidence, in French. Here’s an English summary covering the same stuff on a site whose resources are mostly also in French. (“We do not assert Christian Ranucci is innocent.”) Countless additional search hits en francais await the interested researcher.

Ranucci himself insisted against advice on pursuing an actual-innocence defense, rather than mounting a mitigation case focusing on avoiding the guillotine while conceding guilt. He was convicted on just a 9-3 jury vote.

But neither in his own time nor latterly has that case gained much purchase on the conscience of his prosecutors. The President who denied Ranucci’s clemency petition, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, has recently given his 1976 decision a vote of confidence; the father of the victim feels likewise.

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1979: Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party coup

Add comment July 22nd, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1979, Saddam Hussein executed a terrifying purge of the Ba’ath party.

Hussein had come to power just six days before by forcing out his cousin Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr.

On this date, some 400-plus Ba’ath party leaders were summoned to a pavilion near the Iraqi presidential palace. The secret police locked the doors behind them.

As film rolled, a man named Muhyi Abdel-Hussein came to the stage. Until just days prior, he had been the general secretary of the Revolutionary Command Council, the executive committee that ran the state. For opposing Saddam Hussein’s accession, he’d been arrested and endured God knows what. It was enough to break him, and make him the star in a drama worthy of the old Soviet show trials.

Speaking deliberately, Muhyi Abdel-Hussein* stood at the podium and accused himself of involvement in a Syrian plot against the regime. He had, moreover, been joined in his treason by a number of men in that very room. And then as the names were read off to the stunned audience, Mukhabarat men arrested them and dragged them out of the hall. Colleagues gaped as their ranks were culled around them, each paralyzed with the same panicked thought: am I next? Realizing their vulnerability, some began to chant feverishly their loyalty: “Long live Saddam Hussein!”**

All the while, the emerging dictator — younger and trimmer than we remember him at the end — sat steps away at a simple little table, coolly puffing his cigar. He would be the unquestioned master of Iraq for the next 24 years.

In all, 68 people were hauled out of the room; they were tried immediately and sentenced within minutes: 22 to die, the rest to the dungeons.† The condemned were shot that very day: in a diabolical twist, a number of their former, as-yet-unpurged Ba’ath Party colleagues were detailed for firing squad duty.

Nor was this the end. A wider purge of potential rivals with potential influence — party members, union leaders, intelligentsia, businessmen — unfolded throughout that week; by August 1, several hundred (the exact figure will never be known) had been condemned to die. Muhyi Abdel-Hussein, whatever they promised him, was among them.

* “Al-Khalil gives the last name of Muhyi Abdel-Hussein as Rashid. Matar gives it as Mashhadi. Since Mashhad is a place in Iran, one can only assume that this name was bestowed on the unfortunate Abdel-Hussein posthumously, after it had been discovered that ‘he had reached his position through devious means and that he was originally Persian.’” (Source)

** The entire liturgy of terror was been stage-managed by Taha Yasin Ramadan, who became Iraq’s vice president (and, like his president, was eventually hanged for his trouble). Also making an appearance: Barzan al-Tikriti, who was likewise destined to hang during the American occupation; on July 22, 1979, he was one of the judges on the kangaroo court that issued the death sentences.

† Different sources produce slight variations on the counts of 68 arrests and 22 executions.

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1979: Rahim Ali Khorram and Habib Elghanian, millionaire businessmen

1 comment May 9th, 2013 Headsman

Iranian Revolution firing squads claimed seven lives on this date in 1979, including two multimillionaire businessmen.

One of the businessmen was Rahim Ali Khorram, “an immensely rich contractor who built roads and airports for the government, and sometimes used his 2,000-man work force as a political shock force in support of the Shah.” That quote is from a New York Times profile of Khorram’s son, Hossain, who says that he himself was led out for a mock-execution not long after. (Hossain also says that his father was dead or dying of a heart attack as he was dragged out for execution.)

The charges against Khorram pere consisted of “operating gambling dens, cabarets and a prostitution ring* and feeding a man to a lion in his amusement park.” No lie. He was supposed to have an entire secret necropolis in that park stuffed with the bodies of his enemies. (New York Times, May 10, 1979.)

Habib Elghanian

The other businessman was the Jewish-Iranian plastics mogul Habib Elghanian.

Elghanian was the first Jewish person executed during the Iranian Revolution. His death on charges of spying for Israel, fundraising for Israel, and “friendship with the enemies of God” for having met with Israeli politicians, greatly alarmed Iran’s Jewish community: many fled the country, something Elghanian had pointedly refused to contemplate.

Though Elghanian allegedly claimed not to be a Zionist, he had investments and contacts in Israel — and a radio denunciation made clear to what extent such an association would be anathematized going forward.

He was a disgrace to the Jews in this country. He was an individual who wished to equate Jewry with Zionism … the mass of information he kept sending to Israel, his actions to achieve Israel’s designs, the colossal sum of foreign exchange and funds he kept transferring to Israel; these are only samples of his antinational actions; these were the acts used to crush our Palestinian brethren. (Source)

Weirdly, this execution has made news more recently: the Stuxnet computer worm, which is widely thought to have been engineered in Israel to attack Iran, contains the string 19790509. It’s been hypothesized that this apparent reference to May 9, 1979 might allude to Elghanian’s execution.

* Alleged clientele: the already-executed Gen. Nematollah Nassiri.

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1979: Twenty-one by revolutionary courts of the Iranian Revolution

Add comment May 8th, 2013 Headsman

At 5 a.m. today, 21 people were shot in Tehran by sentence of the previous day’s revolutionary court — the largest mass-execution since the Iranian Revolution three months prior. “Revolutionary courts consolidate the gains of the revolution,” exulted an official newspaper.

While the bulk of this morning’s condemned were lower-ranking Savak personnel or former policemen, several distinct VIPs were also shot along with them.

Gholam Riza Kianpour

The names of all 21 people executed this date can be perused by date-searching the Iran Human Rights Memorial database.

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1979: Pin Peungyard, Gasem Singhara, and (twice) Ginggaew Lorsoungnern

1 comment January 13th, 2013 Headsman

For this date’s entry we turn to The Last Executioner — the memoirs of Chavoret Jaruboon, who was the last prison executioner in Thailand.


Bang. The late (he died in 2012) Chavoret Jaruboon, on the left.

Thailand uses lethal injection today, but our narrator here was the last to conduct executions by that country’s previous execution method, a unique shooting arrangement that prevailed through 2002.*

The prisoner to be executed was tied to a wooden cross, hands pinned in a prayerful position (wai), and facing a wall; behind him (or occasionally, as in today’s post, her), a screen; behind the screen, Chavoret Jaruboon with a mounted automatic rifle that would discharge a burst of up to 15 bullets into the vicinity of the heart, generally terminating life immediately.

The clientele this date were three members of a kidnap gang. Ginggaew Lorsoungnern, a former domestic for a Pathumwan, Bangkok family, had picked up from school the six-year-old child who was her former charge and delivered her to a bunch of toughs. When the ransom delivery went awry — the parents were supposed to toss the money out of a moving train at the spot of a flag, but missed the flag owing to darkness — the enraged kidnappers stabbed the little boy to death. Ginggaew allegedly flung herself over the child in a vain effort to protect him.

Inasmuch as her inside position was the lynchpin for the whole operation, however, these hystrionics would not save her from reprisal. (It wasn’t quite judicial reprisal since the execution was carried out by executive decree: not uncommon in dictatorial 1970s Thailand.) It probably didn’t help that coroners discovered soil in the victim’s lungs … meaning that when they’d dumped his body into its grave, he wasn’t yet dead.

The case was a media sensation. The late executioner’s 21st century book (copyright date: 2006) says that he was even then still “constantly asked about Ginggaew.” For what it’s worth, he thought the sentence was too harsh for her part in the crime. But executioners don’t get to make these decisions.

Ginggaew was the first woman shot in Thailand since 1942, and the first that Chavoret Jaruboon ever saw executed. In his time, he shot three women; Ginggaew is not among their number because in 1979, he was only a member of the execution team, not the man with his finger on the trigger. He was an “escort”, part of the team that brought the doomed from their cell to the execution chamber and then removed the corpse.

Escort duty was “one of the most emotional roles in the whole process of execution,” he writes. “Even the executioner does not have to see the body after he has done his job.”

And on January 13, 1979, the day Ginggaew died followed by two of her collaborators, the escorts had especially unpleasant duty.

While the men died stoic, Ginggaew was frantic, and fainted repeatedly over the hours before execution. “I didn’t do it, I didn’t kill the boy,” she pleaded. “Please don’t kill me, I didn’t kill him.”

Worse was to come.

At 5pm Ginggaew was selected to be brought to the execution room first. The escorts helped her to her feet but she immediately crumpled to the ground. She sobbed that she felt too weak to stand … As she approached the room she had to be revived from another faint.

I found this very difficult to deal with. Between us [escorts on the execution team] we finally got the stricken woman to the cross. She cried while they bound her at the waist, shoulders, and elbows. Her arms were brought up over the beam in a position of prayer. Still, she struggled and tried vainly to break free. The escorts pulled across the screen and fixed it so that the white square indicated where her heart was. Then they stepped out of range. I walked to the gun to load it and aim it at the target on the screen. I was aware that Ginggaew was still struggling. Normally once the prisoner was fixed to the cross they gave up fighting, but this was not the case with her. I secured the gun over her stifled sobs, locking it into position. When I was satisfied, I nodded at Prathom to take over. He took his position and at 5.40pm exactly he released ten bullets into Ginggaew’s body.

Doctor Porngul went up to her and checked for the pulse and retina response. As expected, he confirmed her dead. The escorts quickly untied her body, which was bleeding profusely from the chest, and laid her face down on the floor. She jerked and twitched a little. This wasn’t out of the ordinary but was distressing to witness. Her chest burst open and the blood looked like it would never stop flowing. They carried her into the morgue, the tiny room that we used just off the execution hall. I followed them just to make sure everything was alright. They placed her gently on the bed and we went out to prepare for the next one. What happened then will never leave me.

As the second prisoner, Gasem, was brought into the execution room, there was a sound from the morgue. I could see everything from where I was standing as the door was wide open — Ginggaew was trying to get up. The shocked escorts and I ran back to her. There was blood everywhere. One of the escorts rolled her over and pressed down on her back to accelerate the bleeding and help her die. Another escort, a real hard man, tried to strangle her to finish her off but I swept his arms away in disgust. We stood there watching her gasp for breath for I don’t know how long, but it could only have been a minute or two. I was filled with pity for her. I couldn’t help thinking that she was dying the way that little boy had died — except suffocating from blood instead of earth.

Meanwhile, Gasem had been shot. He died instantly from ten bullets. He had not resisted his death in any way, and spoke to nobody on the way to the cross. After the doctor confirmed that Gasem was definitely dead he checked on Ginggaew. Amazingly she was still breathing. It was a horrible, horrible situation. He told the escorts to put her back on the cross. The men complied, somewhat relieved to be able to just follow orders. It was a grim, nauseating job and they were covered in her blood when they turned to pull the screen across. This time the full quota of 15 bullets were used, and finally, she was dead.

You might wonder why we didn’t just shoot her where she lay, but it would have been against the regulations. Also, I don’t know that any of us could have stood so close to the young girl and pulled the trigger. As it was, the escorts moved as quickly as possible, each of us was concerned that her suffering should not be prolonged.

Pin had had to wait outside for ten minutes until Ginggaew was carried to the morgue for the second time. He was then brought in and tied to the cross. At 6.05pm Prathom pulled the trigger, sending 13 bullets into his back. The doctor went to check on him and discovered that he too was still alive, only just, but still breathing all the same. I loaded the gun again and Prathom shot a further ten bullets, this time killing him instantly. We were all in need of more than one stiff drink that evening.

There are a couple of reasons why Ginggaew had such a terrible death. Firstly her heart wasn’t on the left side as with most people. She most probably had Kartagener’s Syndrome, which is when a person is born with their heart on the right-hand side instead of the left. And even if it was she wasn’t secured firmly enough to the cross so she was able to move around, therefore the bullets would miss their target. It showed the importance of binding the prisoner as tightly as possible, for their own sake. I had my doubts when she was first pronounced dead. I thought I could detect some strain in her neck, and maybe that’s why I followed the escorts to the morgue. The head should normally flop backwards with the cross being the only support for the limp body.


Ginggaew, Gasem, Pin, and all others who were executed by shooting entered the execution building through this red door … now disused and overgrown since Thailand scrapped shooting. Pic from this Norwegian Amnesty International page.

After Thailand switched to lethal injection, Chavoret Jaruboon retired to a monastery. His books show no disquiet about his career. He explicitly supported the death penalty.

“What I do is empty this story (the executions) from my mind. If I don’t do that I don’t know what (the executions) will do to me.”

-Chavoret Jaruboon

* We’ve previously written about a 2001 execution by gunfire in Thailand.

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1977: Benigno Aquino condemned

Add comment November 25th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1977, former Philippines Senator Benigno Simeon “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. was sentenced to death by firing squad under the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.

Aquino, a lifetime politician from one of the archipelago’s powerbroking families, was one of the principal opposition figures against the increasingly autocratic Marcos. His 1968 denunciation of the “garrison state” — Marcos would quadruple the size of the military and infiltrate it widely into civil society — was one of the definitive and lasting brands upon that regime.

So nobody, not least Aquino himself,* was surprised when the outspoken senator was arrested hours after Marcos imposed martial law in September 1972.

Unlike most such political prisoners, Aquino stubbornly refused to cut any deal for amnesty that would confer any hint of submission to Marcos. Their conflict reads, on both sides, as an intensely personal one.

Placed on trial for allegedly arming a guerrilla organization, murdering a political follower, and trying to place the Philippines under (unspecified) foreign domination, Aquino staged a headline-grabbing 40-day hunger strike in 1975 and received extreme unction. The Archbishop of Manila finally talked the wasting Aquino out of letting himself starve to death, but perhaps not out of a certain thirst for martyrdom. (New York Times, Feb. 22, 1977)

“If Marcos believes I’m guilty, I want to be shot tomorrow,” he’s supposed to have exclaimed as he was led away from the tribunal that pronounced his death. (New York Times, Nov. 26, 1977)

That didn’t happen.

While Aquino’s death sentence on this date was expected, it was also generally thought that Marcos — who had allowed only one (non-political) execution during five years of martial law to that point — would spare his foe, as indeed he did. Marcos even released Aquino to travel to the U.S. for treatment after suffering two heart attacks in 1980.

Aquino had those few years to raise his profile and that of the Philippines opposition around the states. Returning to his native country on August 21, 1983, a moment when a then-ailing Marcos seemed weakened enough for a political opening, Aquino was infamously assassinated right on the tarmac as he stepped off the plane.

This event, and the two million-strong funeral march of Aquino’s bullet-riddled body to Manila’s Rizal Park, helped galvanize the country’s opposition. By 1986, popular demonstrations sent Marcos fleeing to exile … and elevated to the presidency Ninoy Aquino’s widow, Corazon.

Today, the couple adorns the Philippines’ 500-peso banknote, and their only son, Benigno Aquino III, is the country’s president. To pay him a call, just catch the next flight to Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport.


Marchers with a banner alluding to Ninoy Aquino’s assassination date pass the monument to the slain ex-senator in Makati. (cc) image from littleislanddimp

* According to In Our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines, Aquino was disappointed at the muted public reaction to his arrest. “I judged Marcos correctly,” he told a friend, “but I misjudged the people.”

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1975: The last executions under Franquismo

Add comment September 27th, 2012 Headsman

Though Spain’s last execution is often misremembered as that of handsome anarchist Salvador Puig Antich in 1974, that milestone actually occurred with the shooting of five anti-Franco terrorists in three different cities on September 27, 1975.

It was an ugly coda to an ugly regime and a 40-year history of political killings.

Gen. Francisco Franco had the previous year been forced by his failing health to hand over power, raising hopes for a democratic transition. But after surprisingly recovering, Franco surprisingly took back his strongman role — and anti-Franco revolutionary movements that had been biding their time greeted the return of Franquismo with a wave of bombings and assassinations.

Spain’s cabinet met in September 1975 to consider eleven death-sentenced prisoners — three Basques of the separatist ETA, and eight members of the communist revolutionary organization FRAP. It upheld five of those sentences, all involving the killing of policemen. (Two women, who both claimed to be pregnant, were among those reprieved.)

The five who ultimately died were (and these are all Spanish Wikipedia links):


Headline from the London Times, September 27, 1975. The garrote was not, in fact, used for any of the executions.

The shootings met angry — often violent — reaction throughout Europe. Spanish embassies in the Netherlands and Turkey were attacked; several countries recalled their ambassadors; and French protesters rioted on the Champs Elysees. The EU predecessor entity EEC (Spain was not then a member) voted to freeze its trade relations with Spain.

And it was about more than just the five humans shot to death.

They had all been condemned within a month before their deaths, by military tribunals requiring harsh mandatory death sentences for crimes against public order. As the unsettled situation on the ground implied quite a lot of disorder and anti-government violence, observers worried that the regime’s willingness to actually carry out those sentences would unleash a “death machine” of unstoppable condemnations, met with inevitable reprisals, and still more unstoppable death sentences. Satans mördare, in the words of outspoken Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme. Devilish murders.

The devil had plans for a different soul.

The ailing Franco succumbed to Parkinson’s Disease on November 20, 1975, once again introducing the period of relative calm and stability that Spain could have been enjoying for the previous year had the late caudillo just stayed in retirement. Spain abolished the death penalty under its post-Franco constitution.

Spanish-speakers may enjoy this documentary focusing on one of this day’s victims: parts 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5. Indeed, this gruesome parting Franco made with his mortal coil has inspired many remembrances up the present day, especially given the martyrology-friendly anti-fascist credentials of the five. There’s also a 1991 film called The Longest Night and the Luis Eduardo Aute song “At Dawn”:

* This man’s widow Silvia Carretero, who was herself arrested and tortured (while pregnant!) under Franco, pushed an unsuccessful 2010 lawuit for her husband’s execution.

Also on this date

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,History,Milestones,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Revolutionaries,Ripped from the Headlines,Shot,Spain,Terrorists

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