1981: Not Kim Dae-jung, South Korean president and Nobel laureate

Add comment January 24th, 2018 Headsman

South Korea’s dictator reluctantly commuted the death sentence of democracy activist Kim Dae-jung on January 24, 1981 … a gesture that would eventually enabled Kim to return the same favor to the dictator.

A farmer’s son who became a wealthy businessman and a charismatic orator, the Catholic Kim had been a fixture of the political opposition since the 1960s which was a dangerous profession. In his address accepting the Nobel Peace Prize for 2000, Kim reflected that

five times I faced near death at the hands of dictators. Six years I spent in prison, and 40 years I lived under house arrest or in exile and under constant surveillance. I could not have endured the hardship without the support of my people and the encouragement of fellow democrats around the world. The strength also came from deep personal beliefs.

I have lived, and continue to live, in the belief that God is always with me. I know this from experience. In August of 1973, while exiled in Japan, I was kidnapped from my hotel room in Tokyo by intelligence agents of the then military government of South Korea. The news of the incident startled the world. The agents took me to their boat at anchor along the seashore. They tied me up, blinded me and stuffed my mouth. Just when they were about to throw me overboard, Jesus Christ appeared before me with such clarity. I clung to him and begged him to save me. At that very moment, an airplane came down from the sky to rescue me from the moment of death.

His life on that occasion was saved by the aggressive intervention of U.S. ambassador Philip Habib.

South Korean politics went on tilt after the ruler who nearly had Kim “disappeared” in 1973 was himself bizarrely assassinated by the country’s intelligence chief in late 1979. Emboldened democracy movements raced into the ensuing power vacuum, roiling cities and universities and culminating in May 1980 when a popular uprising in Kim’s native Jeolla was crushed with hundreds of deaths, bringing martial law in its wake. This was the Kwangju or Gwangju Rising (and/or -Massacre), and it led to Kim’s condemnation for sedition.


Kim Dae-jung in the front row of prisoners on trial after Kwangju.

The U.S. Carter administration, and (from November of 1980) the transition team for the incoming Reagan administration, worked strenuously behind the scenes to effect a commutation;* hanging Kim, Reagan foreign policy advisor Richard Allen warned a Korean intelligence delegation, “would be like a bolt of lightning out of the heavens that will strike you.”

The dictator Chun Doo-hwan eventually traded Kim’s life — he’d be sent into exile in the United States under the pretext of going abroad for medical treatment — for an official visit in the first weeks of the incoming president. Reasoning that

Kim’s execution would inflict long-term damage on Chun’s rule, which by this time had stabilized … On January 24, 1981, Chun commuted Kim’s death sentence to life imprisonment and lifted martial law. On February 3, Reagan warmly welcomed Chun to the White House for a summit meeting. He was the second foreign head of state Reagan met after his inauguration. This meeting was important in enhancing the legitimacy of Chun’s leadership both at home and abroad.

-Chae-Jin Lee, A Troubled Peace

Kim returned to South Korea in 1985 as a closely-monitored opposition figure and re-entered politics, repeatedly seeking election to the presidency — which he finally won in 1997, earning not only executive power but the rare opportunity to repay Chun Doo-hwan’s bygone act of grace.

Earlier in 1997, Chun had been convicted by the post-dictatorship courts on a number of capital charges relating to his reign in the 1980s, and himself sentenced to die. President-elect Kim coordinated with his predecessor Kim Young-sam to have Chun’s sentence commuted during the transition.

“In all ages, in all places, he who lives a righteous life dedicated to his people and humanity may not be victorious, may meet a gruesome end in his lifetime, but will be triumphant and honored in history; he who wins by injustice may dominate the present day, but history will always judge him to be a shameful loser. There can be no exception.”

-Kim

* For period context, recall that in April of 1979 the Pakistani military government had hanged the former prime minister, over Washington’s objections.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Hanged,Heads of State,History,Korea,Not Executed,Pardons and Clemencies,Politicians,Power,South Korea,The Worm Turns,Treason

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1981: El Mozote Massacre

Add comment December 11th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1981, the El Salvador military perpetrated the El Mozote massacre.

It was conducted by the U.S.-trained and -armed death squad, the Atlacatl Battalion, which on December 10 of that year entered the northern village of El Mozote in search of FMLN* guerrillas.

There weren’t any there — just townsfolk whose numbers were swollen by peasant refugees from the brutal civil war. After ransacking the town and interrogating and robbing the residents, the Atlacatl Battalion sent everyone home and bivouaced down for the night in the town square.

Dawn’s light the next morning would bring the unspeakable horror.

The battalion forced the entire population to the town square, divided men from women, and set about murdering men with gunshot, machetes, and worse — and raping and murdering the women — and then slaughtering all the children, too.

More than 800 civilians died. The next month, a Washington Post journalist described “dozens of decomposing bodies still seen beneath the rubble and lying in nearby fields, despite the month that has passed since the incident … countless bits of bones — skulls, rib cages, femurs, a spinal column — poked out of the rubble.”

A few survivors did manage to reach neighboring villages and the story of what had occurred at El Mozote worked its way out to the wider world over the days and weeks to come. It made little matter to the government in San Salvador where bloodbath was policy, openly espoused by the likes of the man who was about to be elected president of the Constituent Assembly.

In Washington, where the checks were written, destroying Latin American peasant guerrilla movements was a Cold War lodestar and so Orwellian denial of this atrocity soon became the virtual law of the land. After heroically risking his life venturing into the conflict zone to collect evidence, the New York Times reporter Raymond Bonner was tarred and feathered by America’s foreign policy apparatchiks and eventually driven off the Times foreign policy beat while the U.S. continued pumping money to the murderers. The Atlacatl Battalion in particular would author several more notorious atrocities in the course of the 1980s dirty war.

A U.N.-backed Truth Commission convened after the conflict finally ended in 1992, investigated the affair and agreed that

There is full proof that on December 11, 1981, in the village of El Mozote, units of the Atlacatl Battalion deliberately and systematically killed a group of more than 200 men, women and children, constituting the entire civilian population that they had found there the previous day and had since been holding prisoner… there is [also] sufficient evidence that in the days preceding and following the El Mozote massacre, troops participating in “Operation Rescue” massacred the non-combatant civilian population in La Joya canton, in the villages of La Rancheria, Jocote Amatillo y Los Toriles, and in Cerro Pando canton.

The El Salvador government officially apologized in 2011. Nobody has ever been prosecuted for the slaughter.


Memorial to the massacre. (cc) image by Amber.

* The Frente Farabundo Marti para la Liberacion Nacional, named for a famous executed Salvadoran peasant rebel.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Children,El Salvador,Execution,History,Innocent Bystanders,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Put to the Sword,Shot,Summary Executions,Torture,Wartime Executions,Women

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1981: Mustapha Danso

Add comment September 30th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1981, Mustapha Danso was executed for an attempted coup in Gambia.

Gambia (or “The Gambia”: we’re going to dispense with the article here) is a sliver of a country hugging the Gambia River, entirely surrounded (save the coast) by Senegal.

It became independent of Great Britain in 1970 under the leadership of Dawda Jawara, who held the Gambian presidency democratically from that time until 1994. Mustapha Danso, our date’s principal, was one of a coterie of disaffected Gambian junior officers who were scheming a coup against Jawara as the 1980s got underway.

In October 1980, Danso walked up to the deputy commander of the Gambia Field Force, Eku Mahoney, and coolly shot him dead. “Although the first speculations blamed the constable’s action on possible illicit drug influence,” notes a book about Gambia’s subsequent, and successful, 1994 junior officers’ coup, “Mustapha Danso’s unresentful attitude after the incident convinced many people that there was more to it than what met the eye.” Mahoney may have been killed because he was viewed by the prospective coupists as an obstacle.

Danso caught a death sentence, but since Gambia never actually executed anyone, it was essentially symbolic.

That is, until July 1981, when Jawara was in London to attend the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana. Danso’s former comrades in the Field Force seized the opportunity to join a coup mounted by leftist politician Kukoi Samba Sanyang against the “corrupt, tribalistic, and despotic” Jawara in favor of “the dictatorship of the proletariat.”

From London, Jawara summoned Senegalese aid: Gambia’s neighbor and sometime rival dispatched troops who successfully crushed the rebellion within a week. Some 500 people lost their lives during the turmoil, and its leaders fled abroad. (Kukoi Sanyang died a few months ago as of this writing, but his version of the “people’s revolution under my able leadership” can be perused here.)

While the coup itself was suppressed, Jawara went pretty easy (as these things go) on his actual or perceived enemies. Danso was the only party to the plot who was executed, and Jawara went out of his way to declare normalcy instead of using a national security emergency to smash up everything.

“In the aftermath of this threat to our internal security some have asked whether it would be appropriate at the time to consolidate both the power of the State and the power of the executive. Let me state categorically and unequivocally that the system of democracy that has always existed will prevail. There will be no dictatorship in The Gambia — neither by the President, nor by the Government, nor by the proletariat.” (Source)

Danso was the first and, for 30 years the only, person executed in Gambia; the country has retained the death penalty in law, but was long considered de facto abolitionist. That changed suddenly in August 2012 when current president Yahya Jammeh unexpectedly ordered nine condemned prisoners put to death on a single day.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Gambia,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Revolutionaries,Soldiers

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1981: Nasiru Bello, a little overeagerly

1 comment September 5th, 2013 Headsman

It’s certainly understandable that dilatory appeals leaving it nigh-impossible to actually carry out a meritorious death sentence provoke aggravation.

But as always, one is left in the real sphere of human endeavor to choose among alternatives that each sport their own drawbacks — and where “drawbacks” are no mere debating points but actual lives on the line. After all, even a years-long appellate process that actually results in an execution can go and execute the wrong guy, to say nothing of systems that promise more immediate enforcement.

In a similar vein is the maxim that however adroit the hangman, etiquette forbids him entering the scene before the legally constituted appellate process — of whatever length it may be — has actually run its course. At least that much patience is not merely a virtue but absolutely de rigueur.

On this date thirty-two years ago, Nigeria committed a serious breach of that decorum.

Nasiru Bello, on death row for armed robbery — a crime the recently installed civilian government appeared to be easing off treating as a hanging offense* — was abruptly put to death by Oyo State before a filed and pending appeal could actually be heard by the court.

That’s what you’d call an irreversible error.

Five years later, Bello’s kin won a unanimous Supreme Court judgment against Oyo State for the wrongful execution, which stirringly declared that

“the premature execution of the deceased by the Oyo State Government, while the deceased’s appeal against his conviction was still pending, was not only unconstitutional, but also illegal and unlawful.** By it, the deceased has lost both his right to life and his right to prosecute his appeal.”

And then that same court reduced the plaintiffs’ claimed damages of 100,000 naira to 7,400: about US $1,900 by the local currency’s black market exchange rate. Bello, of course, stayed dead.

* See the 1980 entries in this pdf of Amnesty International reports on Nigeria.

** Unconstitutional, unlawful and illegal here being used in particular, juridically distinct senses. Despite the finding, nobody involved faced criminal sanctions for reasons boiling down to sovereign immunity.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Nigeria,Notable Jurisprudence,Theft,Wrongful Executions

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1981: Steven T. Judy, Hoosier rapist

Add comment March 9th, 2013 Robert Elder

(Thanks to Robert Elder of Last Words of the Executed — the blog, and the book — for the guest post on the anniversary of what was then the first execution in Indiana for nearly 20 years. Fans of this here site are highly likely to enjoy following Elder’s own pithy, almanac-style collection of last words on the scaffold. -ed.)

“I don’t hold no grudges. I’m sorry it happened. I know what I’m doing.”

— Steven T. Judy, convicted of rape and murder, electric chair, Indiana.
Executed March 9, 1981

A serial rapist, Judy openly courted capital punishment. At his trial for killing a woman and her three children (ages five, four, and two), Judy told a jury to condemn him or else he might kill them, their children, and the judge. He showed no remorse for the murders, telling reporters, “I don’t lose sleep over it.” Judy asked for death. “I’ve lived my hell,” he said. “So [what waits for me] has to be better.”

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,Indiana,Murder,Rape,USA,Volunteers

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1981: Cipriano, Eugenio, and Ventura García-Marín Thompson

Add comment January 2nd, 2011 Headsman

In the early morning hours this date in 1981, three young Jehovah’s Witnesses were hailed out of their cells at Havana’s La Cabaña Fortress, and apparently executed.

Cipriano, Eugenio and Ventura Garcia-Marin Thompson were three of eight Cuban Witnesses who attempted to claim asylum at the Vatican embassy in early December. After a few hours’ standoff, elite government anti-terrorism troops simply broke in and seized them.

(Rome still catches flak (Spanish link) for its failure to maintain a bigger diplomatic ruckus about this violation of its diplomatic prerogatives; the raid may in fact have been green-lighted by a Vatican embassy official.)

You’ll find this tale most commonly expounded on anti-Castro sites, such as this pdf from the Cuba Archive:

The three brothers were taken to Villa Marista headquarters and told by prosecutor Carlos Amat that they had been “tried and sentenced to death.” They were taken from their prison cells in early morning hours of January 2, 1981, and presumably executed, the others were sentenced to long prison terms.

An Interior Ministry official who defected in 1992 reported that their fate had been decided in “an extremely summary process.” The family was denied the remains of the three brothers for burial. The mother was sentenced to 20 years in prison for protesting the executions and served ten years after her mental health deteriorated.

Sources: Testimony of Margarita Marin Thompson (mother) in Ricardo Bofill, Diario Las Américas, September 9, 1997. Pablo Alfonso. El Nuevo Herald, 31 October 1997, p. 6A. Valladares, 1985, p. 416. Amnesty International Annual Report 1983, p. 130. Nuestra Cuba, 1998, p. 3. Reader’s Digest, October 1998, p. 83. Montaner, 1984, p. 267. Cuban American National Foundation, The Quilt of Fidel Castro’s Genocide, 1994. Reinaldo Bragado, 1998, p. 5. Instituto de la Memoria Histórica Cubana contra el Totalitarismo, 2002, p. 35. Fuentes 2002, p.s 102-104. Juan O. Tamayo, “Ex-Cuban prosecutor’s role in rights panel criticized,” The Miami Herald, April 16, 1998. Circuito Sur, July 2002, p. 35, and http://members.aol.com/aguadacuba/cs/datafusi/vaticano.htm.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Cuba,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,God,History,Martyrs,Religious Figures,Shot

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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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