1987: Five in South Yemen for the Events of ’86

Add comment December 29th, 2018 Headsman

From Yemen Divided: The Story of a Failed State in South Arabia concerning the juridical follow-up to the ouster of Ali Nasir Muhammad during the a civil war in South Yemen referred to as the Events of ’86. This breakdown of order in the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) would set the stage for its eventual 1990 unification with North Yemen.

There was a relentless propaganda campaign against Ali Nasir and his associates, especially Muhammad Ali Ahmad. The main leaders were put on trial in open court in the presence of television cameras and the media. For a while it was compulsive viewing, as hundreds of witnesses testified in a unique experiment. As the process dragged on, however, the leaders became increasingly uncomfortable. The desire for revenge in early 1986 had been replaced by a need by mid 1987 to heal wounds. They now wanted to persuade Ali Nasir’s followers to return to the PDRY and cooperate with the new regime. In March 1987, for example, [Haidar Abu Bakr] al-Attas said that, of the 5,000 who had been arrested in early 1986, only 200 were still being held, of whom 94 were on trial in Aden and 48 were being tried in absentia. Later in the year, a general amnesty was declared for people who returned to the PDRY by the end of the year — subsequently extended to July 1987. Throughout this period, Ali Nasir (by now living in Syria) offered negotiations, which were scorned, but also sent operatives over the border in Shabwa and Abyan to stir up trouble. There was also a steady stream of defections to his headquarters in Ta’izz, not far from the PDRY border.

The trials were concluded in December 1987, and on 27 December the Politburo ratified death sentences on Ali Nasir, Muhammad Ali Ahmad, Ahmad Musa’id Husain, Abdullah Salih Ulaywa, Ahmad Abdullah al-Hassani, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi (now president of the Republic of Yemen), Faruq Ali Ahmad, Alawi Husain Farhan (former deputy minister of state security), Hadi Ahmad Nasir (former YSP Secretary for Aden), Ahmad Husain Musa and Mubarak Salim Ahmad. It commuted sentences passed on another 24 to 15 years in prison (including Muhammad Abdullah al-Battani and Sulaiman Nasir Muhammad), and it reduced a sentence of 15 years imposed on al-Tali’a leader Anis Hassan Yahva to seven years. Others were given lengthy sentences. Five were executed on 29 December: Faruq Ali Ahmad, Hadi Ahmad Nasir, Alawi Husain Farhan, Ahmad Husain Musa (a former commander of the air force) and Mubarak Salim Ahmad (commander of Ali Nasir’s bodyguards). The executions led to outrage in the north and parts of the PDRY, as well as the wider Arab world. A shocked [Ali Salem] al-Bidh remained firm, but al-Attas and others argued that the remaining prisoners should be treated with leniency. Over the next two years, many of those in prison were released or pardoned.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Mass Executions,Politicians,Power,Soldiers,Yemen

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1986: Alec Collett, Lebanon hostage

Add comment April 16th, 2017 Headsman

On (or very near) this date in 1986, Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal had British hostage Alec Collett hanged in revenge for the previous day’s U.S. bombing of Tripoli.

Collett, a journalist and U.N. aid worker, had been abducted in Beirut more than a year earlier.

Abu Nidal, his captor, was the brand-name terrorist of his era. Indeed, his own name was a brand: Sabri Khalil al-Banna was the name he was born into, in a wealthy Palestinian family driven to dispossession and refugee camps by the Nakba. It was the Abu Nidal organization‘s assassination attempt on Israeli diplomat Shlomo Argov that triggered Israel’s counterproductive 1982 invasion of Lebanon, perhaps (for its long-term consequences) the crowning achievement of Abu Nidal’s career.*

This very conflict brought Collett to Beirut, as an aid worker for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

Stopped at a militia checkpoint on March 25, 1985 where he might have been taken because of an Israeli-stamped passport, Collett became one of about 100 foreigners seized as hostages by various factions over the long course of the Lebanese conflagration.

Only a few of these hostages died in their captors’ hands; they were in the main prisoners for leverage, and so efficaciously did they lever that it was these very souls that Ronald Reagan‘s U.S. administration proposed to retrieve by purchasing the (officially enemy) influence of Iran in the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal.

Confusingly shifting factional advantage has tangled Middle East politics for many a year, to be sure, and here the prospect of a negotiated release was aborted by the April 5, 1986 terrorist bombing of a Berlin discotheque frequented by U.S. soldiers — two of whom died in the blast.

This outrage proved to be the project of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who then stood in a very tense position vis-a-vis the West. Ten days after the disco attack, Reagan responded with an air raid on Libya clearly intended to assassinate Gaddafi — who fled his compound moments before it was crushed by a fleet of 2,000-pound bombs. (The bombing might or might not have slain the dictator’s infant daughter.)

This attack on Gaddafi was also an attack on that arch-terrorist Abu Nidal, whom Gaddafi had recently taken in after a former patron Saddam Hussein made a bid for respectability by expelling him from Iraq.** And it so happened that Collett’s unoffending person offered Abu Nidal the most immediate vehicle for retaliation.

It’s not completely certain that April 16 was the date of Collett’s murder, though there is no real reason to doubt his executioners’ claim on this point. The matter was confused at the time because three other dead westerners discovered on April 17 were initially reported to include Collett among their number — a claim subsequently debunked. On April 23, Collett’s captors released a grainy video of their masked prisoner being hanged;† however, the identification of the noosed man was still questioned for many years. Collett’s remains — confirmed by DNA testing — were only discovered in 2009.

The anniversary of Collet’s initial abduction, March 25, is kept annually by the United Nations as International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members.

* Israel withdrew from the bloody morass three years later, having displaced the Palestinian Liberation Organization for a much more effective new resistance movement in Hezbollah. Decades later, Osama bin Laden would cite Lebanon as the event that “gave birth to a strong resolve to punish the oppressors,” including the sight of “demolished towers in Lebanon” to inspire a bit of tower-toppling of his own.

** Abu Nidal had only recently on Gaddafi’s behalf hijacked an EgyptAir flight, killing dozens.

† I have thus far not been able to locate this video online.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Cycle of Violence,Execution,Hanged,History,Hostages,Lebanon,Libya,No Formal Charge,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1986: Adolf Tolkachev, the Billion-Dollar Spy

Add comment September 24th, 2016 Headsman

The U.S.S.R. executed alleged* U.S. mole Adolf Tolkachev on this date in 1986.

Tolkachev (English Wikipedia entry | Russian) had grown up during the Stalin years — background he would cite by way of explaining his subsequent actions against the Soviet state and its “impassable, hypocritical demagoguery.” (His wife had been orphaned by the purges of the 1930s.)

Inspired, he said, by the dissidence of writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (expelled from the Soviet Union in 1974) and bomb engineer Andrei Sakharov (prevented from leaving the Soviet Union to collect his 1975 Nobel Peace Prize), Tolkachev in the late 1970s boldly made contact** with U.S. intelligence officers at the Moscow petrol station where they fueled their cars. He immediately became one of the Americans’ most valuable assets — literally so; the 2015 book about him is titled The Billion Dollar Spy.

Tolkachev’s day job for a top-secret aviation laboratory gave him access to priceless documents on the development of the Soviet aircraft, radar, and weapons guidance and using a James Bond-esque miniature Pentax supplied him by Langley, Tolkachev snapped photos of those secrets for delivery to the Americans. It’s claimed — this is the reason for the billion-dollar stuff — that Tolkachev’s tips drove research and development in American military technology in vastly more effective directions.

The spy himself was paid for his risks in rubles and in a U.S. escrow fund pending his eventual defection.

But his last payment turned out to be a bullet, courtesy of betrayal by CIA turncoat Edward Lee Howard and/or that bane of spies Aldrich Ames.

* The date is supplied courtesy of a September 25, 1986 Politburo document referring to Tolkachev’s execution “yesterday”.

Note however that the prevailing Tolkachev story as presented in this post is disputed by CIA historian Benjamin Fischer, who has argued that “Adolf Tolkachev” was a KGB prank on its opposite number in the Cold War’s Spy vs. Spy game.

** Tolkachev really had to insist upon himself to his American handlers: the first four times he approached US embassy personnel with overtures he was rebuffed or ignored as a probable Soviet plant.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,History,Russia,Shot,Spies,USSR

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1986: The Moiwana Massacre

Add comment November 29th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1986, during the opening months of a guerrilla war that would last until 1992, a 70-man detachment of Suriname soldiers raided the village of Moiwana, home of the rebel leader Ronnie Brunswijk, and massacred dozens of people.


Drawing made c. 1990 by an eight-year-old refugee of Moiwana. Image from Richard Price’s “The Killings in Suriname”, Cultural Anthropology, November 1995.

Sealing the roads, the team went house to house for four hours, torching houses and slaughtering any of the Ndyuka civilians who couldn’t escape into the surrounding jungle.

“Everyone was shot — the unarmed women, pregnant women, a baby barely seven months old,” goes the account in Memre Moiwana, a publication of the NGO Moiwana ’86. “No distinctions were made.” Some were mowed down with automatic weapons; others slashed to death with machetes. At least 38 people died, though various sources posit estimates running to upwards of 50.

In the weeks following, nearby Ndjuka villages in eastern Suriname shared a like fate, often bombarded by helicopters and finished off with bulldozers while death squads hunted suspected guerrillas. The U.S. State Department reported 244 Ndyuka people killed that December. A United Nations investigator entering the area months later reported that “no human being or living creature was seen apart from starving dogs in [one such town] Albina. The jungle vegetation had taken over the destroyed buildings.”

A police inspector named Herman Eddy Gooding who had the temerity to investigate these massacres while the guerrilla war was still ongoing was found mysteriously shot dead in 1990. (See Rainforest Warriors: Human Rights on Trial) In 2005, however, survivors of Moiwana won a suit against the army of Suriname before the Inter American Court of Human Rights.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Children,Execution,History,Innocent Bystanders,Known But To God,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Power,Put to the Sword,Shot,Summary Executions,Suriname,Wartime Executions,Women

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1986: Jerome Bowden

4 comments June 24th, 2011 Headsman

A quarter-century ago this date, a “scared” mentally disabled prisoner named Jerome Bowden was electrocuted in Georgia for a crime many think he did not commit.

Bowden drew a death sentence for a robbery-murder on the strength of two very suspect pieces of evidence:

  • the accusation of a juvenile co-defendant who might well have been the real murderer; and
  • a signed confession Bowden could barely understand

While present-day DNA exonerations are fortunately forcing reconsideration of the ubiquitous problem of false confessions, Bowden’s was understandably doubted even before his execution.

Asked to explain his signature on a document obviously beyond his capacity to compose himself, he gave a confused answer that seemed to indicate he’d been led to sign it by a suggestion that it would keep him out of the electric chair.

“Detective Myles had told me this here … Had told me about could help me, that he could, you know, which I knew that confessing to something you didn’t take part in was-if you confess to something that you didn’t do, as if you did it, because you are saying that you did.”

(This remark inspires us to re-issue our occasional reminder: do not talk to the police.)

Bowden’s assent to this fatal “admission” sadly evokes the characteristic eagerness to please one often encounters in the developmentally disabled — sometimes, as with Joe Arridy, to their own destruction.

It’s noticeable, too, in Bowden’s incongruously ingratiating last statements, recordings of which were taken and subsequently leaked publicly. This and others are available at SoundPortraits.org.*

[audio:Jerome_Bowden_last_statement.mp3] [audio:Jerome_Bowden_last_statement_addendum.mp3]

Bowden had been evaluated with an I.Q. of 59 at the age of 14, the examiner reporting him “functioning at the lower limits of mild retardation. He has little or no insight into his situation … He is easily distracted and has a tendency to act on impulse regardless of the consequences.”

And even though the authorities hustled through a test the day before his execution that reckoned Bowden with an I.Q. of 65 — still solidly below the conventional threshold for mental disability, but good enough for the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles — the whole affair shook the state. It “unsettled more than a few persons in government and law enforcement,” the Atlanta Constitution later editorialized.

Its [the state’s] reasoning was grievously faulty. Whether Bowden understood his fate or not, whether he knew right from wrong — he was indisputably handicapped …

Most states have progressed beyond the dated right-wrong standard in weighing such cases … and ask: Could the defendant help himself? There is compelling evidence that Bowden could not …

brute whimsy was given full sway. For the state of Georgia, it was a willful lapse of decency.

Atlanta Constitution, July 1, 1986 editorial**

This lapse of decency rippled over the months ahead until Georgia in 1988 became the first state to enact a law barring the execution of the mentally disabled.

Maryland followed suit the next year, but the U.S. Supreme Court held in the 1989 decision Penry v. Lynaugh that executing such prisoners did not constitute “cruel and unusual punishment”.

While that decision was reversed in 2002, the putative ban on executing the mentally disabled in the United States remains very far from a bright line. It’s up to the states themselves to decide who falls under that definition,† and at least some have given ample indication that they’re prepared to exploit any expediency necessary to get a fellow onto death row, or keep him there. Earlier this very week, Texas (of course) put to death a man of dubious competence, Milton Mathis, essentially by cherry-picking its data and having federal appellate review barred on a technicality.

A quarter-century on, those ripples started by Jerome Bowden still have a way to go.

* We’ve previously featured another recording in this set of a particularly frightful botched electrocution.

** Both Constitution quotes, and the childhood IQ examiner quote, as cited in Robert Perske’s Unequal Justice?.

† As an irony of its early adoption, Georgia later found itself with an unusually stingy legal standard for protecting disabled defendants from the death penalty.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Disfavored Minorities,Electrocuted,Execution,Georgia,History,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA,Wrongful Executions

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1986: Vice-President Paulo Correia and five others

1 comment July 21st, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1986, six people were executed by firing squad for attempting a coup in the West African state of Guinea-Bissau.

Correia, an ethnic Balanta war hero, was an African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) activist from the days of Portuguese colonial control — which only ended in 1974.

He was among the revolutionary council that governed the country after Joao Bernardo (Nino) Vieira‘s 1980 coup d’etat.*

This latter strongman was finally assassinated in 2009, but in the interim he was one of the world’s most plotted-against heads of state — in no small part because he came from a tiny ethnic group, and had a fraught relationship with military brass from the plurality (but not majority) Balanta. Vieira needed Balanta officers like Correia to keep the army on his team. Balanta officers like Correia had to wonder whether they needed Vieira.

Correia had perhaps been involved in a 1982 coup attempt that got a tank commander executed, but such was the danger to Vieira of alienating the Balanta (and Correia’s personal following in the military) that rather than face prosecution, he was simply shifted from Minister of the Armed Forces to the less martial post of Minister of Rural Development in the aftermath. Two years later, still trying to keep his treacherous officer inside the tent pissing out, Vieira took him on as Vice-President.

Despite these relative concessions, however, neither Correia nor his fellow military men were thwarted in their drive to augment their power, and in November I985 they planned to overthrow the regime and to install Correia as President and [Balanta lawyer] Viriato Pan as Vice-President. Correia and about one dozen Balanta were immediately arrested before their coup could be implemented; a total of 53 accused conspirators were later convicted, including Correia and Pan, who were both executed along with four others in July 1986.**

“This event,” reports Human Rights Library, “is vividly remembered in Bissau, where rumor has it that Correia’s eyes were gouged out before he was shot. True or not, this belief is clear evidence of the gruesome reputation of the security forces.”

* Just a captain at the time of the 1980 coup, Correia was a colonel at the time of his execution.

** Joshua B. Forrest, “Guinea-Bissau since Independence: A Decade of Domestic Power Struggles,” The Journal of Modern African Studies, March 1987.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Guinea-Bissau,History,Mass Executions,Politicians,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Treason

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1986: Mamman Jiya Vatsa, warrior-poet

2 comments March 5th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1986,* Nigerian Major-General Mamman Jiya Vatsa was shot (along with nine others) by command of his childhood friend — the dictator Ibrahim Babangida, whom Vatsa was allegedly plotting to overthrow.

A gifted writer since youth, Vatsa was just a nameless twenty-something junior officer in the early 1970s when he emerged onto the national literary scene.

In the 15 years before his death, Vatsa churned out 20-plus volumes, mostly poetry. He had a special inclination for writing for children.

Simultaneously, his star ascended in his professional sphere.

Risen to General, Vatsa was part of the Supreme Military Council of the previous dictator.

But by December of that year,
Vatsa and dozens of others were arrested.

Testimony against them — much of it of the speculative or torture-induced variety — described a ring of officers piqued at the Babangida coup (Vatsa was out of the country when it occurred) and keen to undo it. The scheme would have been only one of many such hatched or imagined in an unstable political situation that surely made the new big man nervous.

In the end, “only” ten (the nine others are named here) were stood up against the wall for the alleged plot. Many others, however, were imprisoned or purged, a lasting injury to the Nigerian brass that particularly crippled its air force.

Babangida, of course, rejected clemency appeals from the Vatsa family he knew well. He has since justified his harshness by arguing that Vatsa would have continued plotting against him in prison or in forced retirement. “Rawlings did it in Ghana,” Babangida said. “And you know Vatsa was very stubborn.”

The fatal tribunal’s judge** is less certain, and is hardly the only one to doubt Vatsa’s guilt outright.

I don’t know, nobody ever asked.
That was how some heroes died.
They died.

-Vatsa, “They Died” (Voices from the Trench)

* Some sources give March 6 as the execution date, but contemporaneous western press reports (admittedly an impeachable source) prefer the 5th. For instance, the March 6 Chicago Tribune says the executions occurred on “Wednesday” (the 5th).

** Ironically, Vatsa himself had once sat on a tribunal for another group of failed putschists, the 1976 Dimka coup.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Artists,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Mass Executions,Nigeria,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Treason,Wrongful Executions

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1986: Andrew Sibusiso Zondo and two other ANC cadres

12 comments September 9th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1986, African National Congress cadre Andrew Sibusiso Zondo was hanged in Pretoria nine months after bombing a shopping center near Durban, with five white fatalities.

Zondo claimed he had intended to non-fatally target the South African Airways office at Amanzimtoti’s Sanlam Centre, but couldn’t find a functioning, available telephone in time to phone in his attempted bomb warning. Did we mention that he was 19?

Zondo, it turned out, had been radicalized by South African security forces’ indiscriminate violence against claimed ANC “strongholds” — and specifically by a still-infamous attack, the “Matola raids,” on neighboring Mozambique.

The apartheid regime wasn’t out to win hearts and minds. And it didn’t.

[T]here have never been any ANC bases or camps in Mozambique. There are residences … and if the qualification to make a home a base is only that the people in it can use a gun, then let us be told now: because every white man in South Africa can use a gun and there are weapons in every white household. Are these bases too? (ANC Acting President Oliver Tambo)

The bomb (actually a mine) was planted three days after a South African raid on Lesotho. One of Zondo’s accomplices later turned state’s evidence in exchange for immunity.

Both the ANC, which had an official policy of avoiding civilian casualties, and Zondo himself portrayed the affair as a regrettable rogue operation carried out unofficially by an understandably frustrated cadre.

It was not the last word in the bloody tit-for-tat

Two other persons suspected of being involved in the Amanzimtoti blast, Mr Phumezo Nxiweni and Mr Stanley Sipho Bhila, were [extrajudicially] executed by Security Branch members after they were acquitted in court … At Andrew Zondo’s memorial service, his brother was so severely assaulted that he developed epilepsy, which subsequently killed him. Two mourners were shot dead leaving his parents’ home after the memorial service. Lembede, one of the security policemen involved in the killing of Zondo’s alleged accomplice, was himself later killed, allegedly by members of MK.


Hanged along with Zondo were two unrelated ANC cadres, plus three unrelated common criminals.

I have no information about the criminals, but the other revolutionaries to swing were Clarence Lucky Payi and Sipho Brigitte Xulu (or Sipho Bridget Xulu — but a guy, by either name).

Payi and Xulu assassinated another ANC agent, Benjamin Langa, the brother of present-day South African Chief Jutsice Pius Langa.

South Africa’s post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission has officially attributed the murder to a false flag operation conducted by Pretoria — whereby a mole in the ANC ordered the killing and, with its perpetrators’ subsequent execution, achieved for the white government “a triple murder … without firing a single shot themselves.”

A murky affair by any standard, and one that may not be entirely buried. There’s been some attempt (hotly disputed) to establish a sinister (if vague) alternate hypothesis linking current South African President Jacob Zuma himself to the Langa murder.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Murder,Revolutionaries,Ripped from the Headlines,South Africa,Terrorists

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1986: The Stoning of Soraya M

9 comments August 15th, 2009 Headsman

It was on this date, according to French-Iranian journalist Freidoune Sahebjam’s The Stoning of Soraya M, that 35-year-old mother Soraya Manutchehri was stoned to death in an Iranian village.


In a scene from The Stoning of Soraya M, the titular character awaits her titular fate.

In Sahebjam’s telling, a journalistic trip to the Islamic Republic chances upon a mountain village with a terrible secret.

The story he uncovers features one Ghorban-Ali, nasty husband par excellence who grows tired of the arranged wife he’s spent 22 years beating and (falsely) accuses her of adultery in order to put her out of the way so that he can remarry a younger bride.

With the complicity of the local mullah, the impolitic silence of the accused, and the structural misogyny of the law, Soraya Manutchehri quickly finds herself condemned to death on this date, and stoned within hours — Soraya’s own father casting the first stones.

This powerful story, officially denied by Tehran, has just been released in cinematic form. The Stoning of Soraya M. (movie homepage) features an unsubtle dramatic tableau, a stomach-churning 20-minute stoning sequence, and Iranian-American actress Shohreh Aghdashloo as Soraya’s aunt Zahra Kahnum, fearlessly giving the foreign journalist this explosive story

As it happened, this cinematic condemnation of the reduced status of women in the Ayatollah’s Iran made its American debut the same week that cell phone footage of Neda Agha-Soltan, bleeding to death after being shot dead during protests against Iran’s recent election results, became an Internet sensation.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Gruesome Methods,History,Iran,Known But To God,Notable Sleuthing,Public Executions,Ripped from the Headlines,Sex,Stoned,Women,Wrongful Executions

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