1975: Isobel Lobato, wife of East Timor’s Prime Minister

2 comments December 8th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1975, the wife of East Timor’s Prime Minister was publicly executed on the docks of her conquered country’s capital.

By the happenstances of colonial expansion, East Timor, a 15,000-square kilometer half-island in the Lesser Sundas, chanced to have the Portuguese flag planted on its soil instead of (as characterized the rest of its surrounding Indonesian archipelago) the Dutch.

Because of this, Timor-Leste did not walk the same path trod by Indonesia: it did not share in Indonesia’s 1945 revolution breaking away from the Netherlands, nor in the 1965 coup d’etat that put the Suharto military dictatorship in charge of that country.

While these years of living dangerously played out throughout the vast island chains, and even in West Timor, little East Timor remained Portuguese property into the 1970s.

But by that time, colonialism was wearing out its welcome in that onetime maritime empire. A long-running, and ever more unpopular, war against independence fighters in Portugal’s African colonies finally helped to trigger the mother country’s 1974-75 Carnation Revolution and a new regime interested in immediate decolonization.

Abruptly — arguably, too abruptly — Portugal began divesting herself of her onetime empire’s onetime jewels, including not only East Timor but Goa on the coast of India (oops), and the African states of Guinea, Mozambique, and Angola. These would immediately become contested violently by proxies backed by the United States and the Soviet Union.

Though easily the least lucrative and strategically essential of these forsaken colonies, Timor too felt the the Cold War’s hand.

Western-allied Suharto eyed warily the Timorese left-wing insurgent movement turned political party that went so far as to declared Timorese independence in November of 1975. In response, Indonesia gathered the main opposition parties under its own umbrella and had them produce a declaration calling for — wouldn’t you know it? — unification with Indonesia.

By that time, the fall of 1975, it was becoming apparent that such a unification would soon be a fait accompli. Indonesian commandos were penetrating East Timor, even making bold enough to murder western journalists. On December 7, 1975, Indonesia invaded East Timor with the blessing of Washington, D.C.*

The ensuing 24-year occupation was a notorious bloodbath, and Indonesian troops set the standard right from day one … or, in this case, day two.

On December 8, in the now-occupied capital city of Dili, dozens of Timorese elites were marched to the quay under the frightened gaze of their countrymen and -women, and there publicly shot into the harbor. Notable among them was Isobel Lobato, the wife of Nicolau Lobato, who had been the prime minister of Timor’s brief moment of independence in 1975.

Nicolau Lobato himself did not share his wife’s fate, however. He escaped into the bush where he helped lead a remarkably persistent anti-occupation guerrilla movement until he was finally killed in a firefight in 1978. Post-independence, Dili’s Presidente Nicolau Lobato International Airport was re-named in his honor.

* President Gerald Ford and his fell henchman Henry Kissinger flew out of Jakarta hours before the invasion, arriving in Hawaii where they would demur on reporters’ inquiries as to whether they had green-lighted the unfolding incursion. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who was at that time America’s U.N. envoy, boasted in his memoirs that “The United States wished things to turn out as they did, and worked to bring this about. The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook. This task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success.”

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,East Timor,Execution,History,Indonesia,Martyrs,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Notably Survived By,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Shot,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions,Women

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1968: Three blacks in Rhodesia, notwithstanding Queen Elizabeth II

2 comments March 6th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1968, Rhodesia earned global opprobrium with a triple hanging in Salisbury (today known as Harare).

Labour M.P. Anne Kerr lays a wreath at the Rhodesian embassy to protest this date’s hangings. A few months later, Kerr would be the one in the world’s headlines … when she was roughed up by Chicago police at the 1968 Democratic Convention.

This was the first “Rhodesian” execution, three years on into the white-supremacist (pdf) breakaway state — which had bucked orderly majority-rule decolonization by declaring independence under its settler government.

So it was hardly a matter of whether James Dhlamini, Victor Mlambo and Duly Shadrack were or were not “guilty”: springing the trap on the gallows was an act fraught with racial hostility within Rhodesia (today, Zimbabwe) and throughout a decolonizing world.

Queen Elizabeth II issued a royal reprieve and the British government warned of the “gravest personal responsibility” attaching to anyone who involved himself in the proposed hanging. Rhodesia royally ignored it.

I have been hanging people for years, but I have never had all this fuss before.

(white) executioner Ted “Lofty” Milton (n.b. seemingly pictured here)

“This fuss” would encompass cross-partisan fury in the British House of Commons as well as a moment of silence in the Indian parliament, denunciations by both America and the Soviet Union … basically everybody. Tanzanian-born British M.P. Andrew Faulds called for criminal sanctions “not excluding the death penalty”. (London Times, , Mar. 7 1968)

There were even demands for humanitarian intervention — amounting to a British military occupation — to protect the other hundred-plus blacks then awaiting the gallows. Needless to say, that wasn’t about to happen, so in the face of Salisbury’s intransigence, was it all just sound and fury?

Does the Secretary of State recall that it was Winston Churchill who said: “Grass grows quickly over the battlefield; over the scaffold, never.”?

-Still-sitting Conservative M.P. Peter Tapsell — then a pup of 38, now the Father of the House — during Parliament’s emotional March 6 debate

Rhodesia insisted on the point by hanging two more Africans five days afterwards … but it also announced 35 reprieves.

In its fifteen years, Rhodesia never did get itself clear of the fuss over white rule; it remained a global pariah and eventually succumbed to its long-running Bush War.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Political Expedience,Rhodesia,Wrongful Executions,Zimbabwe

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1962: Georges Kageorgis, assassin

Add comment June 30th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1962, Georges Kageorgis* was shot at Usumbura (now Bujumbura) for assassinating the charismatic national figure seemingly destined to lead the country into its postcolonial age.

“It was a bit like what could have happened in South Africa if Nelson Mandela was murdered before assuming the presidency in 1994,” said one pol later.

A prince, a pro-independence nationalist, a Tutsi who had married a Hutu and spurned a tribal leadership position lest he cast too sectarian a profile, Louis Rwagasore became prime minister in the fall of 1961 on the strength of his party‘s comprehensive electoral victory.

Rwagasore admired Patrice Lumumba. He was destined to share Lumumba’s fate.

Two weeks after his election, “the one truly popular national figure” was gunned down by Kageorgis, a Greek mercenary drawing pay from Belgian settlers who reckoned a better situation (French link) for themselves with Hutu governance. A revolution of (Belgian- and Catholic-backed) Hutu in Rwanda had had a “neo-colonial” character, according to Rene Lemarchand … and it had heightened ethnic tensions in Burundi.

With the murdered prince went ethnic cohesion; the bloody Kamenge riots of January 1962 presaged worse to come as leadership in the Rwagasore-less party collapsed. Ethnic conflict sharpened through the 1960’s, with a Tutsi-dominated dictatorship ultimately gaining control of the country and setting the stage for intermittent massacres (two classed as genocides) that haunt Burundi to this day and form part of the context for the Rwandan genocide.

Rwagasore Day — October 13, the anniversary of the prince’s assassination — is still observed in Burundi. Kageorgis’s execution date is notable for other reasons: it was the last day before Belgian authority in Ruanda-Urundi officially ended.

* This Greek newspaper gives the killer’s name as Ioannis Karagiorgis.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Belgium,Burundi,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Milestones,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Occupation and Colonialism,Shot

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1957: Dedan Kimathi, Mau Mau commander

1 comment February 18th, 2009 Headsman

At a Nairobi prison this morning in 1957, the most famed and feared of the so-called Mau Mau was hanged under emergency measures permitting the death penalty for illegal firearms possession.

The armed Mau Mau uprising against British colonialism was by this time on its last legs militarily, having been ground down by years of murderous anti-insurgent operations and pleasantries like mass internment.

It had been an ugly fight on all sides, with overlapping conflicts — within the Kikuyu tribe, between Kenya’s native populations, and between the British Empire and her faraway subjects — brutally settled.

Certainly the Mau Mau’s depredations had garnered voluptuous press coverage in the mother country; accordingly, the capture of “Field Marshal” Kimathi, the biggest name in the insurgency, was a plume in the British lion’s cap.

(An earlier propaganda piece along the same lines sounded the war tocsin “so that peace may come to this troubled colony.”)

Notwithstanding the (still) official London take on Kimathi and the Mau Mau, their fight for the independence Kenya would soon attain has made Kimathi a hero to many Kenyans.* He was honored on the 50th anniversary of his death with a bronze statue in Nairobi.

And more than that: the Mau Mau would metastasize into a sort of floating signifier for implacable racialized anti-colonialism, a powerful symbol for an age of decolonization. Malcolm X frequently invoked the Mau Mau example. Frantz Fanon saw in the Mau Mau the potency of spontaneous rural resistance in generating white interest in “compromise” with the moderate who

never stop saying to the settlers: ‘we are still capable of stopping the slaughter; the masses still have confidence in us; act quickly if you do not want to put everything in jeopardy.’ … as the settlers cannot discuss terms with these Mau-Mau, he himself will be quite willing to begin negotiations.

* Although many surviving Mau Mau themselves are nonplussed by their post-independence treatment.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Famous,Guerrillas,Hanged,History,Kenya,Language,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Separatists,Soldiers,Terrorists,Wartime Executions

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1961: Patrice Lumumba

3 comments January 17th, 2009 Sarah Owocki

No brutality, no torture has ever made me plead for mercy, because I prefer to die with my head up, with unshakable faith and deep confidence in the destiny of my country, rather than live in submission and spurning of scared principles.

-Patrice Lumumba’s last letter to his wife

One person’s “murdered under controversial circumstances” is another person’s “executed.” By most unbiased accounts, Patrice Lumumba was both.

A strident anti-colonialist caught in the most inflammatory of Cold War power struggles, Lumumba remains a controversial figure.

In 1956, Patrice Lumumba was a mail clerk in Belgian Congo recently out of prison for embezzlement of post office funds. Though previously involved with the Liberal Party of Belgium, a colonialist political party, after prison, he helped found the Mouvement National Congolais, a pro-independence national party (an important distinction at the time, as most pro-independence parties were at least partially tribal in nature).

Convicted in 1959 of inciting an anti-colonial riot and sentenced to 6 months in prison, Lumumba was released early as Congo won its independence and the MNC became an important political force. Just how important became apparent the following June, when the 35-year-old Lumumba was ratified as the newly independent Congo’s first prime minister.

From criminal to high statesman in just over a year, Lumumba took his new power in stride, and watched in disgust as the deposed King Baudouin of Belgium attended the new nation’s first Independence Day celebration, and before a fawning international media condescendingly congratulated Belgium’s colonial beneficence to its former slave plantation.

Struck from the day’s official celebrations in favor of the the lukewarm exhortations of the new President Kasa-Vubu, Lumumba found time on the day’s unofficial program. Strident, emotional, and unabashed in its anticolonialist, nationalist, and pan-Africanist bent, Lumumba’s famous speech was roundly criticized by the domestic and foreign press, but well-received by the crowd and ultimately delivered directly to history.

Lumumba’s tenure as prime minister was short-lived, however.

Mere weeks after independence, a mutiny on army bases broke out in reaction to Lumumba’s ill-fated decision to leave the military out of a government pay raise. The resulting anarchy quickly spread throughout the country, and the province of Katanga, with the support of King Baudouin and powerful mining companies, declared independence. As United Nations troops failed to quell the situation, Lumumba appealed to the Soviets, whose intervention succeeded only in causing Lumumba’s political support to crumble.

Kasa-Vuba dismissed Lumumba in September; in response, Lumumba declared Kasa-Vuba deposed — quite illegally, as it happens — and appealed to the Senate, from whom he managed to win a vote of confidence.

At this point, in the heat of the Cold War, things got interesting.

Deposed again, this time in a CIA-endorsed coup, Lumumba found himself under house arrest and under the protection of UN troops. Not certain whether to trust the rule of the various laws surrounding him, Lumumba slipped out under the cover of night and escaped to nearby Stanleyville (now Kisangani), where he believed he had enough supporters to set up his own government — and army, whom one supposes he had by then resolved to pay rather better.

Pursued by forces loyal to the new government, Lumumba was captured and arrested in early December 1960 and charged with “inciting the army to rebellion.” Devoid of his former UN protection, the man who would be the leader of a newly free nation watched as he became a pawn in a much larger struggle. UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld appealed to the process of law –- whatever that was –- while the USSR jumped a step ahead, demanding that Lumumba be immediately released and reinstated as prime minister and all UN forces withdrawn.

So much for that. The UN Security Council convened, and, a week later, the USSR’s resolution was defeated. Another, Western-backed resolution that would have given the UN power to act as impartial arbitrator was vetoed by the USSR.

At this point, caught between hostility of Cold War politics and the ever-hazy idea of “international law,” Lumumba languished in the military barracks of an even more hostile government. Hearing of plans for his transfer to barracks at the now-subdued Katanga province, Lumumba was wild on the plane trip and was forcibly restrained after appealing to other passengers to intervene on his behalf. Late at night after his arrival at his new prison, Lumumba was driven to an isolated spot and executed by firing squad. News of his death was not released until three weeks later, when it sparked protests in several European cities over the role of the Belgian government, which denied any involvement.

The extent of US and Belgian involvement in Lumumba’s death remains the subject of ongoing speculation. So does the question of what might have been.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Belgium,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Congo (Kinshasa),Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Guest Writers,Heads of State,History,Martyrs,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Other Voices,Politicians,Popular Culture,Power,Shot,Summary Executions

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1963: Jean-Marie Bastien-Thiry, model for the Jackal

4 comments March 11th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1963, clutching a rosary, French officer Jean-Marie Bastien-Thiry was shot by a firing squad in the Paris suburb Ivry-sur-Seine for attempting to assassinate Charles de Gaulle.

Perhaps no anticolonial struggle left a more considerable intellectual and cultural footprint than the Algerian War of Independence against France. It gashed the French polity as well; the right violently rejected the swelling sentiment to end their country’s 132-year occupation. It is often said that the conservative Charles de Gaulle was the only man who could have engineered the departure with the support of a sufficient portion of the populace — but a sufficient portion by no means meant all, and every blunder multiplying the [French] body count was laid on de Gaulle’s head besides.

On August 22, 1962 — just weeks after that war successfully expelled the European power — an assassins’ team led by Bastien-Thiry (collaborating with the far-right Organisation de l’armée secrète) unleashed a machine gun fusillade at de Gaulle’s car. Hundreds of shots were fired; miraculously, the president and all his aides all escaped unharmed.

Although the actual gunmen were reprieved by their intended target, their manager was not. Said de Gaulle,

The French need martyrs … I gave them Bastien-Thiry. They’ll be able to make a martyr of him. He deserves it.

Certainly Bastien-Thiry had that in mind. At his trial (as recorded by a sympathetic French-language website), he addressed his conduct to posterity:

Nous avons exercé le droit de légitime défense contre un homme, au nom de ses victimes, au nom de nos concitoyens et au nom de nos enfants ; cet homme est ruisselant de sang français et il représente la honte actuelle de la France. Il n’est pas bon, il n’est pas moral, il n’est pas légal que cet homme reste longtemps à la tête de la France ; la morale, le droit et la raison humaine s’unissent pour le condamner. La vérité que nous avons dite, et que bien d’autres que nous ont dite avant nous, restera attachée au nom de cet homme, où qu’il aille et quoi qu’il fasse. Un jour cet homme rendra compte de ses crimes : devant Dieu, sinon devant les hommes.

Bastien-Thiry’s sensational plot, and the ongoing efforts of the OAS to murder de Gaulle, inspired Frederick Forsyth’s novel The Day of the Jackal, and a classic 1973 film of the same title:

Part of the Themed Set: The Written Word.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,History,Infamous,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Shot,Soldiers,Treason

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