2011: Li Lindong, truck driver

Add comment August 18th, 2012 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

A year ago today, coal truck driver Li Lindong was executed for the murder of a 35-year-old man named Mergen.*

The victim was dragged down the street for 160 yards, or 145 meters, before he finally died. His death is symptomatic of the serious ethnic/class tensions in Inner Mongolia, where the crime took place.

Li Lindong was Han Chinese; Mergen was an ethnic Mongol herder. Inner Mongolia covers over 10% of China’s landmass and has 24 million people. Han Chinese make up almost 80% of the population, but the ethnic Mongol minority were there first.


A yurt on the Mongolian steppe.

While the Mongols continue to live a traditional, pastoral existence, the region’s coal industry has been booming of late and many Hans, like Li, have flocked in vast numbers to work in the mines.

Problem: mining and sheep-herding don’t exactly go together.

The Mongols claimed a number of grievances:

  1. The noise from the mines is difficult to live with.
  2. The coal pollution is turning the steppe into desert, making it impossible for them to find pasture for their animals.
  3. The miners are intruding on their land, tearing up the grass and even running over and killing their livestock.
  4. The Chinese government is trying to force them to to give up their nomadic existence and live in permanent houses.

According to The Guardian, these complaints had merit and the damage was obvious, even from a distance:

Many students are from herding families who have been moved into cities as the wide-open pastures are fenced off. The government says such measures are necessary to promote development, prevent overgrazing and protect the fragile grasslands, much of which have turned to desert in recent years. Locals say herders’ rights have been violated and the fencing and mining have created bigger environmental problems, including pollution, noise, traffic and dust storms that blow across much of north-east Asia.

The transformation is evident on the flight to Xilinhot. From the air, the grasslands are blotched with sandy areas near farms and the dark smudges of open-cast pits. From the road, the clouds of dust from mines and trucks is visible miles away.

So outraged were the Mongol herders that they actually began organized protests, which aren’t terribly common in China, particularly among Mongols. (The precedents aren’t good.)

This was what lead to Mergen’s murder.

He and about 20 to 40 other herders had formed a human chain to try to block a convoy of coal trucks. There was a standoff as the truckers tried to persuade the herders to move aside. Finally Li, infuriated, simply hit the gas and ran over some of the herders, killing Mergen.**

Mergen’s murder lead to still more protests. One, attended by some two thousand Mongolian high school students, was the largest protest in Inner Mongolia in twenty years. The protesters claimed the Chinese government hadn’t acted to address the underlying problems that lead to the herder’s death.


A protest over Mergen’s death.

The government claimed otherwise, saying they were going to overhaul the coal mining industry and shut down the worst polluters, as well as try to cut down on other environmental problems like water shortages and soil erosion. (They have, at least, shut down over 200 mines.)

As for Mergen’s murder, their response was swift, as Chinese justice tends to be.

Mergen was killed on May 10. Li Lindong was arrested shortly thereafter and tried on June 8, in a six-hour procedure that resulted in the death sentence. That sentence was carried out two months later.

Nor was he was the only person to face charges. Lu Xiangdong, the passenger in Li’s truck, was also convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Wu Xiaowei and Li Manggang got three years apiece for obstructing justice by blocking the police cars that arrived on the scene and allowing the truckers to escape.

The government also gave a monetary settlement to Mergen’s grieving family, but they would probably rather have him back instead.

As for Inner Mongolia … it’s hanging in there, but it remains to be seen whether the environmental problems will or even can be relieved.

* In his culture, there are no last names.

** According to one widely reported but unconfirmed account, he joked about it, saying he had enough insurance to cover the death of a “smelly Mongolian herder.”

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2011: A day in the death penalty around the world

Add comment July 19th, 2012 Headsman

China

On the morning of July 19, 2011, two Chinese politicians were executed for corruption.

Xu Maiyong (right), former vice mayor of Hangzhou in Zhejiang and bearer of the Santa Claus-esque nickname “Plenty Xu”, was on the hook for $30 million of embezzlement as part of a wide-ranging campaign of public graft in service of a suitably luxuriant lifestyle filled with homes and mistresses.

Jiang Renjie, deputy mayor in charge of urban planning, construction, transportation, communications and housing in Suzhou, had made about half that much in bribes from developers around 2001-2004.


United States

On July 19, 2011, Arizona executed 52-year-old Thomas Paul West, a mere 24 years after he beat a man to death while robbing his Tucson trailer in June 1987.

West had the depressing background so common to condemned prisoners, a litany of childhood sexual abuse that drove him to drug abuse and a PTSD diagnosis: he would claim that he “freaked out” when the homeowner Donald Bortle surprised him and started yelling at him, and that he didn’t think he’d killed Bortle at all.

He lost a closely divided clemency vote shortly before his death on a 3-2 margin. He also lost judicial appeals over Arizona’s having illegally obtained the execution drug sodium thiopental, and then switched the injection protocol at the last minute to the instead use the hip new killing-drug pentobarbital. He even lost after he was already dead.

The Grand Canyon State, more famous perhaps for its outre immigration policies, is an emerging death penalty hot spot.

Per the Death Penalty Information Center’s database, Arizona didn’t conduct its first 21st-century execution until 2007, nor its second until 2010. But West was the fourth man (no women since 1930) put to death there in 2011, and the state could carry out up to seven in 2012.


Iran

The public triple-hanging in Azadi Square in the ethnically Kurdish west Iranian city of Kermanshah on this date was just a drop in the bucket relative to Iran’s hundreds-strong annual execution toll. But this one made the headlines.

Fazel Hawramy of Kurdishblogger.com provided the following video of the public hanging to Amnesty International, which helped focus worldwide attention on the event … although to what real consequence for “the continuing horror of the death penalty in Iran” (Amnesty’s words) is harder to say.

Equally hard to say from here is what relationship the hanged men’s rape conviction had to reality.

Warning: This is a snuff film.

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2011: Scott McLaren, Highlander

1 comment July 4th, 2012 Headsman

A year ago today, 20-year-old Scott McLaren of the 4th Battalion (The Highlanders) the Royal Regiment of Scotland was captured by Afghan insurgents and summarily shot.

The baby-faced McLaren, not yet three months in Afghanistan at that point, had left his base in in the Nahr-e-Saraj district of Helmand province during the middle of the night; reports suggest that he’d done so in order to retrieve mislaid night-vision goggles whose loss he would have been punished for. (This detail, while poignant, is not completely certain.)

Whatever the reason for his sortie, it ended with him being captured by Afghan insurgents.

As British, U.S., and Afghanistan forces mounted a 17-hour manhunt for the missing soldier, McLaren was reportedly stripped of his body armor and equipment and, at some point, shot in the head and dumped in a canal. The exact circumstances of his capture and death may never be known.

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2011: Yao Jiaxin, road rager

3 comments June 7th, 2012 Headsman

On this date last year, a young pianist turned public enemy number one was executed in China for a notorious roadside murder.

Yao Jiaxin, a 21-year-old student at Xi’an Conservatory, hit a waitress on her bike while driving in October 2010.

Seeing her taking down his car’s license plate and fearful that she would revenge herself with financial demands for her minor injuries, an infuriated Yao stabbed her to death there at the scene.

“Yao stabbed the victim’s chest, stomach and back several times until she died,” in the words of one court. “The motive was extremely despicable, the measures extremely cruel and the consequences extremely serious.”

Appropriately, the execution took place on the very day that Chinese students were facing grueling university entrance exams, like the ones Yao himself had passed a few years before.

This event sparked massive national outrage, and Yao — the ivory-tickling son of a well-off couple who worked for the defense industry but didn’t have the pull of true elites — proved to be perfectly cast for the role of public pariah in a country undergoing the cataclysmic social displacements of internal migration, urban proletarianization, social stratification, and uneven capitalistic growth. He reportedly told police in his confession that he feared that his victim, a “peasant woman[,] would be hard to deal with.”

So-called “netizens” thrilled to the scandalous murder and bombarded online communications spaces with demands for Yao’s condign execution — an offering to the hollow bromides of legal egalitarianism that people in China as everywhere else see flouted every day. Yao’s family even fed that in a backhanded way by offering the victim’s family a larger compensation than that demanded by law if they would back off their demand for execution. Those “peasants” spurned the bribe.

Despite the familiar spectacle of public bloodlust over an infamous crime, Yao’s case also had an unsettling effect for at least some. He was, after all, a promising young man undone by a moment of madness and moral frailty: his downfall was distinctly tragic, in the classical sense, and not such a stretch to read as symbolic of China’s challenges and transformations.

Palpably grief-stricken and contrite about it — his parents took him to the police station to turn himself in, and cameras tracked the frail-looking youth through his few months of legal calvary all the way to a pitiably sobbing spectacle in his final court appearance as he pleaded in vain for his life — Yao could inspire pity as well as loathing.

The nature of Yao’s crime makes him an unlikely poster-boy for ending capital punishment per se. Yet there was also something discomfiting about authorities’ theatrical and foreordained compliance with a bloodlust that they had arguably stoked.

And in a China which has moved towards dialing down executions in recent years, even Yao’s individual culpability met some overt challenge: academics and legal professionals prepared to frame it as a crime of passion or something akin to “temporary insanity,” meriting a lesser punishment.

“A lot of people felt shocked,” a Chinese death penalty opponent told a western reporter. “They felt shocked by the process. Some people thought the netizens pushed the court into giving Yao the death penalty.”

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2011: Three in Shiraz

2 comments April 16th, 2012 Headsman

A year ago this date, three young men identified as Abolfazl Faraei, Reza Roshanfekr and Seyed Rokneddin Karimi were executed by hanging from cranes in Shiraz, Iran, on charges of kidnapping, armed robbery, and murder.

Disturbing images of the public hangings follow; click on any save the last to zoom to a larger disturbing.

Update: Shiraz marked the anniversary date by hanging eight more the day this post was published, April 16, 2012.

Another man was reported hanged the same date for murder in nearby Takhteh Kenar.

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2011: Ahmed Ali Hussein, enemy cleric

1 comment January 30th, 2012 Headsman

On this date last year, the Islamist Somali al-Shabaab publicly shot a man named Ahmed Ali Hussein in Mogadishu.

The 44-year-old, reportedly an ecclesiastic member of the rival al-Ictisam sect, was allegedly induced to confess that he’d been working with American intelligence. He was chained up and riddled with hundreds of bullets while neighbors were made to watch.

“In the documents we have, Ahmed Ali Hussein has worked with United States’ Federal Bureau Investigation (FBI) for 16 months,” an al-Shabaab spokesperson explained. Hussein was not permitted to defend himself.

So, extrajudicial killing of cleric on uncontested secret evidence of aiding the enemy. Put Somalia down for the cutting edge of jurisprudence.

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2011: Ryu Kyong, Kim Jong-un rival

1 comment January 4th, 2012 Headsman

Sometime in early January — nobody seems to know quite when — North Korean intelligence official Ryu Kyong disappeared, apparently executed.

The number two man, and perhaps de facto number one man, in the State Security Department and a longtime Kim Jon-il ally, Ryu was reportedly “summoned by Kim Jong-il in early January and on his way to Kim’s residence, was arrested by members of the General Guard Bureau. He was interrogated and secretly executed.”

Speculative reason: the Leader viewed Ryu as having grown too powerful, and therefore as a potential rival to a clean succession for Kim Jong-un.

“With Ryu, many others were purged at the State Security Department,” a Seoul analyst said. “We can say that as he gained control of the department, Kim Jong-un needed to give jobs to people loyal to him.”

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2011: Two leaflet-readers

1 comment January 3rd, 2012 Headsman

South Korean activists have in recent years taken to balloon-lifting propaganda leaflets over the DMZ into North Korea — including on the occasion of the recent leadership succession.

North Korea is not amused by this tactic and has pressured — and even militarily threatened — South Korea to clamp down on it. But that’s nothing next to the clampdown within North Korea.

On this date in 2011, according to an activist whose father is a North Korea abductee, two were publicly shot for the crime of handling these leaflets.

An army officer who pocketed dollar bills enclosed with the leaflets was shot along with a 45-year-old woman who concealed one of the flyers, said Choi Sung-Yong.

He said the executions were carried out on January 3 at Sariwon, 45 kilometres (27 miles) south of Pyongyang, in front of 500 spectators following a special ideological session on the leaflets.

Choi, citing a source in Sariwon, told AFP that six members of the victims’ families had been sent to a camp for political prisoners.

“North Korea apparently carried out the executions to teach a lesson to its people,” Choi said.

He said the regime appeared to have tightened ideological control as it grooms the youngest son of leader Kim Jong-Il as eventual successor to his father.

Those dollar bills that cost the army officer his life are, very sadly, enclosed with some leaflets to induce North Koreans to pick them up despite the risk to life and limb.

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2011: Troy Davis, doubts aside

11 comments September 21st, 2011 Headsman

The reader is likely aware that as of 7 p.m. this evening, Georgia Diagnostic and Classification State Prison local time, a man named Troy Anthony Davis will die by lethal injection — barring some sort of intervention that by this point would rate just this side of the miraculous.

Since Davis already had one of those, an extraordinary 11th-hour Supreme Court intervention the last time he was up for death, you’d have to guess he’s over quota as it is.

The controversial particulars of this case are too voluminously available for this space to hope to contribute much. As Scott Lemieux observes, the affirmative case for Troy Davis’s innocence is not a slam dunk: but the evidence as it exists, of unreliable eyewitness accounts from a nighttime scene, supplied under police pressure and later largely retracted, could today hardly approach the threshold of guilt beyond reasonable doubt. I don’t know if Troy Davis shot Mark MacPhail, and neither do you. Davis dies for it tonight just the same: all the paperwork is in order.

The “demon of error,” Illinois Gov. George Ryan called it, as he emptied that state’s death row. This unsettling matter demands one play bookmaker with a man’s life. Are you as much as 80% sure? Would that be sure enough? Maybe the uncertainties are unusually large here, but at some level this is the calculus for most criminal adjudications, death or otherwise.

“If a case like this doesn’t result in clemency, which is a discretionary process that calls a halt to an execution based on doubt surrounding the integrity of the verdict, then it suggests that clemency as a traditional fail-safe is not adequate,” criminologist James Acker told the Christian Science Monitor. “The Davis case raises doubts about the discretionary clemency process and ultimately raises doubts about whether the legal system can tolerate this potential error in allowing a person to be executed.”

Clemency as an inadequate, dead-letter procedure (Gov. Ryan aside) is familiar to any observer of the American capital punishment scene; Rick Perry thinks he can disdain it all the way to the presidency.

Perry’s state of Texas has something in common with Georgia: the clemency decisions are not directly in the hands of the governor. It’s an interesting arrangement that helps to scatter responsibility for that weightiest of decisions; every actor in the apparatus is in a position to say, “I alone did not have power of life and death.”

Georgia is one of just five states (not including Texas, where the governor has final say and exercises significant behind-the-scenes power over his advisors) where the clemency process is entirely vested in a committee.* The Georgia Governor is a fellow named Nathan Deal, and his autopen will spill much ink in the hours ahead signing form response letters explaining that he doesn’t have anything to do with pardons or clemencies in his state and thanks for writing.

It wasn’t always this way.

A predecessor of Deal’s in that mansion, one with a promising political career ahead, was bayed out of politics for exercising his prerogative to spare Leo Frank because “I cannot stand the constant companionship of an accusing conscience.” The modern office-seeker typically comes with this accusatory module helpfully un-installed, but one can see how there’d be advantages to removing from the office anything to invite experimentation with self-destructive scruples.

The roots of Georgia’s current system go back to the 1930s, when the notoriously corrupt Eurith Rivers held the governorship and used the solemn power of pardons like merchants in the temple — and every bit as lucratively.

The “pardons racket” continued under Rivers’s successor, until a young reformist captured the office and dramatically rewrote the way Georgia did business.

Among those reforms was the progressive concept of rooting out the pardons racket by removing the authority from the governor’s hands. No pardon power, no embarrassing Marc Rich cases. As Gov. Arnall himself explained,

There were those who used to say facetiously, “If you bring the governor a cow, he’ll get you a pardon for your kinfolks, or if you get him a bale of cotton if you do this, or if you get the right lawyer or if you get the right set-up, you can get pardons, pardons, pardons.” So they had gotten a lot of pardons, and the newspapers were after them day in and day out for granting these pardons.

Pardons, pardons, pardons. You can’t get hold of them for a bale of cotton any longer.

These institutions naturally have a life of their own, and what was forward-looking under Georgia’s 1943 constitution seems anything but to Troy Davis’s supporters this day. In the end, the board is still appointed by governors, and it predictably skews towards prosecutors and police — the latter of whom are out for Davis’s blood since Mark MacPhail wore a badge for his day job. It deliberates behind closed doors, and need not record or account for its considerations.

But this is really the lament against the decision itself more so than the process: individual governors are no more bound to broadcast their decision-making process, although some choose to do so. The rules of the game matter, but whatever they might be, it is humans who apply them — human judgment that makes the choices, whether as the first officers on the scene, as jurors, or as a panel of inscrutable bureaucrats with power over life and death.

* Here’s an example of a similar committee in Nebraska granting a pardon, in the relatively less-fraught circumstance of a man 100 years dead.

Part of the Themed Set: Americana.


Update: After a last-second reprieve that extended into a four-hour execution-night drama, the U.S. Supreme Court denied (pdf) Davis’s last appeal. He was executed at 11:08 p.m.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Georgia,History,Lethal Injection,Murder,Notable Jurisprudence,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Ripped from the Headlines,USA,Wrongful Executions

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2011: Three Philippines drug mules in China

6 comments March 30th, 2011 Headsman

Today in China, overseas Filipino workers Ramon Credo, 42, Sally Villanueva, 32, and Elizabeth Batain, 38, were executed by lethal injection in China as drug smugglers — the first two in Xiamen, and the last in Shenzhen.

The three had been arrested in 2008 and convicted in 2009 for carrying heroin — they said unknowingly — into the People’s Republic.

The fate of these three aroused an outpouring of sympathy in their native land, where economics drives up to 10% of the population to work overseas, often at a hazard.

Vice President Jejomar Binay, who personally traveled to China to plead their case, called it “a sad day for all of us.” (Unusually, China actually granted a few weeks’ reprieve from the original February execution dates. This was viewed as a concession, and why not? China has rolled stronger countries in similar cases before without even that courtesy.)

While this case was in the headlines for weeks in the Philippines and around the world, the condemned at the heart of it seem not to have realized their deaths were imminent until relatives flew in from China to meet with them on this very day, just hours before execution.

These seem to be the first known Philippines nationals executed in China for drug trafficking, and if that’s a surprising milestone for the world’s most aggressive executioner to be setting with a regional neighbor noted for its many overseas workers … it bears remembering that it’s only China’s stupendous economic growth in the past generation or so that has made it such an especially attractive migrant worker destination.

This execution date also happens to be the 40th anniversary of another landmark event in Sino-Filipino relations, the hijacking of a Philippines airliner by six students, who diverted it to China. Those illicit airborne arrivals were greeted with considerably more leniency than our present-day drug couriers enjoy.

Seventy-two more Philippines nationals are reportedly under sentence of death in China for drug crimes(or not), and around 120 more for various offenses throughout the world.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,China,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Drugs,Execution,Lethal Injection,Milestones,Philippines,Ripped from the Headlines,Women

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