1926: Shao Piaoping, journalist

2 comments April 26th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1928, Chinese journalist and social activist Shao Piaoping was shot at Beijing’s Tianqiao execution grounds — fulfillment of his lifelong motto, “To die as a journalist.”

The intrepid Shao blazed a trail for print media in his native country, bucking a prejudice that mere journalism was a bit on the declasse side.

He co-founded and edited Hanmin Daily in 1911, just in time to get his support for the Xinhai Revolution into newsprint.

But Shao was no propagandist, and, post-revolution, was repeatedly arrested for his scathing critiques of Yuan Shikai and the various other illiberal strongmen taking roost. He had to duck out to Japan twice during the 1910s; there, he kept cranking copy, now as a foreign correspondent for Shanghai’s top newspapers. As the decade unfolded, he also became a theoretician of journalism without abating his prodigious ongoing output.

“I saw my role as that of helpful critic and believed it wrong to praise petty people simply to avoid trouble,” this pdf biography quotes Shao saying of himself. “I was determined not to dispense with my responsibility.”

By the late 1910s, he was publishing his own capital-city newspaper, Jingbao (literally “The Capital”) and developing his academic thought as a teacher at Peking University. He was perhaps China’s premier journalist; even so, he still had to slip into exile in Japan in 1919 after openly supporting the May Fourth student movement.

Shao left an impressive mark on his students, perhaps none more so than a penniless young leftist working in the university library, Mao Zedong.

As a guerrilla, Mao — still at that time an obscurity to most of the outside world — remembered Shao fondly to journalist Edgar Snow. In contrast to many other Peking University scholars who gave the provincial twentysomething short shrift, Shao “helped me very much. He was a lecturer in the Journalism Society, a liberal, and a man of fervent idealism and fine character.” Word is that Shao even loaned Mao money.

Shao’s acid pen and unabashed sympathy for agitators led to his arrest in 1926 by the warlord Zhang Zuolin — whose wrath Shao incited by denouncing bitterly a horrific March 18 massacre of students.

But the martyr journalist’s heroic career — not to mention his accidental link with the future Great Helmsman — insured his elevation into the pantheon, even though Shao’s underground membership in the Communist party was not known for decades after his death. Mao personally declared him a hero of the revolution, and intervened to see that his widow and children were cared for. China has any number of public monuments in Shao’s honor.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,China,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,History,Intellectuals,Power,Shot

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1975: The Balibo Five, before the invasion of East Timor

4 comments October 16th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1975, five Australia-based journalists were slain in East Timor: executed (ahem, “allegedly”) by Indonesian security forces preparing to invade the former Portuguese colony.

The Balibo Five — Australians Greg Shackleton and Tony Stewart; Britons Brian Peters and Malcolm Rennie; and New Zealander Gary Cunningham — worked for two different Australian networks, but were together filing reports from the village of Balibo during the tense run-up to the December 1975 Indonesian invasion.

Just weeks before this date, the more Indonesian-friendly faction in the newly-independent statelet had been routed into Indonesian West Timor by the revolutionary Fretilin. Indonesian security forces were “covertly” probing into East Timor; to those on the ground, it was obvious that an attack was imminent.

Just three days after Greg Shackleton filed that broadcast, he was dead, along with all those colleagues who had been so moved by their Timorese hosts.

The Anglo journos had counted on their passports to protect them, and prominently advertised their Australian affiliations, believing that Indonesia’s western-backed dictatorship would not risk alienating its Cold War allies. By the official story — it’s still Indonesia’s official story — the Balibo Five nevertheless managed to all find their way into the crossfire when Indonesian troops overran Balibo on October 16.

But western sponsorship of this impending incursion went much deeper than the reporters imagined.

Much to the dismay of the men’s families, Canberra proved quite amenable to burying the matter rather than create a diplomatic incident. It even took a pass on the subsequent execution of another Australian who came to Timor Leste to investigate what happened to the Balibo Five — and was himself killed during Indonesia’s full-scale invasion.

Nevertheless, a considerable body of evidence has accumulated to the effect that the journalists’ death was the cold-blooded elimination of eyewitnesses who “could have testified that there was indeed an invasion by Indonesian troops.”

Australian filmmaker Robert Connolly last year fired new interest in the case by releasing Balibo, a dramatic feature film (shot on location in Balibo with Timorese extras) based on Jill Jolliffe’s book about the journalists.

Balibo is endorsed by East Timor’s president, and banned in Indonesia.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Australia,Borderline "Executions",East Timor,Execution,History,Indonesia,Innocent Bystanders,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Power,Ripped from the Headlines,Scandal,Shot,Wartime Executions

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1916: Cesare Battisti and Fabio Filzi

5 comments July 12th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1916, the Austro-Hungarian empire executed Cesare Battisti and Fabio Filzi for treasonous Italian nationalism.

It was the multiethnic Habsburg state that was itself dying of its constituents’ national aspirations; in little more than two years, the state entity that carried out this day’s sentences would no longer exist at all.

Pre-World War I, Battisti (English Wikipedia entry | Italian) was actually a Socialist representative in the Austrian parliament.

When the unpleasantness broke out, though, he made a break for the peninsula where he agitated* (successfully) for Italian entry into the fray against Austria-Hungary. Irredentists had long coveted Habsburg properties with a heavy Italian population, like the Adriatic port of Trieste and Battisti’s own native Trento; the war offered an opportunity to swipe those territories, notwithstanding Italy’s putative prewar alliance with the Austrians.

Although already 40 years of age when Italy entered the war, the intrepid Battisti enlisted to fight. He was captured along with an otherwise obscure subaltern, Fabio Filzi, on the Alpine slope of Monte Corno (now known as Monte Corno Battisti) repelling the Austrian Strafexpedition.**

Austria did not stand on ceremony with these men; their capture took place on July 10, their trial on July 12, and their executions at the Castello del Buon Consiglio — an ironic Calvary, for a parliamentarian — later that same day. (To complete the scene, the strangulation-hanging was botched when Battisti’s first rope broke.)

The Austrian writer Karl Kraus would observe that “they thought they were hanging Italy, but it was really Austria on the gallows.”

Whichever one it was, they took a lot of pictures.


Battisti and Filzi as prisoners.


Battisti leaving the courtroom en route to his execution.


Battisti approaches the scaffold.


Battisti waiting at the scaffold as the sentence is read.


The Austrian army offers a prayer and salute to the shrouded body of Cesare Battisti.

* As a socialist who broke against the internationalist position and in favor of violent nationalism, Battisti was an ally of Benito Mussolini. It was Battisti, actually, who pioneered the socialist-nationalist-newspaperman act upon which Mussolini would later raise is own star, to such an extent that Battisti’s paper, Il Popolo — the apparent inspiration behind Mussolini’s own subsequent paper, Il Popolo d’Italia — gave the still-obscure future Duce some of his earliest gigs.

A martyr’s death during World War I fortuitously spares Battisti’s legacy the unpleasant association with his friend’s postwar turn towards fascism, so there are many streets and plazas named for Battisti, as well as a memorial in Trento. He’s also honored by name in the 1918 patriotic tune La Leggenda del Piave (lyrics).

** “Punitive expedition”.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Habsburg Realm,Hanged,History,Intellectuals,Italy,Martyrs,Mature Content,Occupation and Colonialism,Politicians,Power,Separatists,Soldiers,Treason,Wartime Executions

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2007: Ajmal Naqshbandi, Fixer

4 comments April 8th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 2007, the Taliban beheaded hostage Ajmal Naqshbandi, an Afghan “fixer” who arranged local contacts for foreign journalists.

Naqshbandi had been pinched on March 6 with La Repubblica writer Daniele Mastrogiacomo while both were out on a story together, even though Naqshbandi himself had set up Taliban interviews before.*

Quiet negotiations over several weeks produced a swap that would free the scribes, but a last-minute breach by the authorities — who decided not to return one of the agreed-upon prisoners — caused the Taliban to hang onto the Fixer. (Mastrogiacomo was set free. The man who was driving these two had been beheaded at the outset to prove the captors meant business.)

The story wasn’t quiet any longer, and as it mushroomed into a worldwide cause celebre with a scramble to save Ajmal, the Taliban evidently perceived a political advantage in butchering its hostage.

Success! Afghan President Hamid Karzai looked like a total stooge, willing to ransom a foreigner but not an Afghan.

So, for that matter, did the Italian government, which got it from both sides for being abject enough to deal with terrorists in the first place, and then ignoble enough once it did so to bail out its own national while letting his local partner die.

Naqshbandi is the subject of the (aptly titled) documentary Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi (review).

Fellow-hostage Daniele Mastrogiacomo wrote this book about the ordeal.

The film follows Ajmal’s work with journalist Christian Parenti.

Doug Henwood of Left Business Observer interviewed Christian Parenti in the second half of this August 2009 episode from his (highly recommended, though rarely death penalty-related) WBAI radio program/podcast Behind the News, with intriguing coverage of the political context and the role of Pakistani intelligence:

[audio:http://shout.lbo-talk.org/lbo/RadioArchive/2009/09_08_15.mp3]

(Another leftist outlet, Democracy Now!, interviewed Parenti here.)

Pretty brutal.

But then, war is hell for journalists.

* “This work is very dangerous,” Naqshbandi said a few months before his death. “I bring one enemy to meet another.”

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Afghanistan,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Cycle of Violence,Execution,History,Hostages,Innocent Bystanders,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Political Expedience,Power,Ripped from the Headlines,Scandal,Wartime Executions

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1794: Jacques Hebert and his followers

4 comments March 24th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1794, firebrand revolutionary pamphleteer Jacques Hebert and his eponymous party of Convention radicals mounted the scaffold during the Paris Terror.

As a 32-year-old, Hebert started putting out his foul-mouthed blog radical newspaper Le Pere Duchesne in the Revolution’s early months.

In this increasingly vituperative rag, Hebert — incongruously writing in the voice of “Old Man Duchesne” — savaged first the royal couple, and then (after that pair lost their well-coiffed heads) whatever the retrograde element of the unfolding Revolution happened to be on any given day: the constitutional monarchist Lafayette; the bourgeois liberal Girondists. His paper valorized the Parisian working-class sans-culottes, and lustily demanded heads for the satisfaction of their various grievances.

Here, he literally channels Marat:

All of these thoughts trouble my brain, and the memory of Marat follows me without end. Last night I saw him in a dream: his wound was still bleeding, dammit. Upon seeing it I cried. Friend of the people, I shouted, is it you? Yes, good Père Duchesne, it’s Marat who comes from the dead to talk with you, because — dammit — the love of freedom pursues me even beyond the grave. Content to have lost my life for my republic, there only remains to me the regret of not having seen it delivered, before my death, from all the scoundrels who tear away at its breast. Père Duchesne, you must do what I couldn’t do. You closely followed me in the revolution; like me you consecrated you life to the defense of the rights of the people. You speak the language of the Sans Culottes, and your foul mouth, which makes little mistresses faint, sounds beautiful to free men, for free men shouldn’t be sought among the beautiful souls. Your joy and your anger have done more than all the dreams of statesmen. They know this well, the worthless fucks, and that’s why they’ve persecuted you like they did me. Courage, old man; don’t back off when you suffer the same trials as me, don’t be afraid: is there a more beautiful death than mine? But since you’re useful to your fellow citizens, try to avoid the daggers of statesmen. Live a while longer in order to denounce them and to complete, if you can, the task I’d undertaken.

Yes, Père Duchesne, you have to go after them hammer and tong, and not take it easy on anyone. When three months ago I proposed planting three hundred nooses on the terrace of the Tuileries in order to hang there the perfidious representatives of the people, some took me for a madman, and others as someone thirsty for blood. But nevertheless, if I’d been believed how much bloodshed would have been avoided! More than a million fewer men would have perished! So when I made that proposition I wasn’t speaking as a bloody monster, on the contrary I spoke as a friend of humanity. The moderates have buried more victims than those that fell before the steel of our enemies. Nothing is more harmful in a revolution than half measures. We have finally arrived at the era when we must pare things right down to the bone. … No more quarter for the defeated party, because, dammit, if the statesmen had the upper hand for one moment there wouldn’t exist a single patriot in six months.*

Late in his run, Hebert was on to venting dissatisfaction with the party of Danton, who had followed the monarchists and the liberals off the starboard of acceptable revolutionary opinion. Sensible centrist Maximilien Robespierre would indeed strike that faction down — just two weeks after he’d purged the radical Hebertist gaggle itself.**

Eleven days after Le Pere Duchesne last hit the streets, its author’s head hit the basket.

His printed editorials (like the one above) often assert a modish conviction in his own coming martyrdom, but as proof against a fatal political reversal, Hebert had trusted overmuch to his power base in the Paris commune. When he was carted out this morning, the mob whom his own paper once played to reveled in old Pere Duchesne’s fall just as readily as it had reveled in his enemies’.

some men carrying long sticks, at the end of which were suspended braziers of burning charcoal, symbolical of the “Charcoal-burners” of the “Pere Duchesne,” thrust them into the face of Hebert, insulting him with the same bitter railleries with which he tormented so many other victims (Alphonse de Lamartine)

Hebert was executed at the Place de la Revolution in a batch of 20 fellow-radicals, among whom we also find the eloquent “orator of mankind,” anticlerical† wordsmith Anacharsis Cloots. (Victor Hugo on his revolutionary leader in Les Miserables: “he had too much of Saint-Just about him, and not enough of Anacharsis Cloots.”)

The original La Pere Duchesne was dead, but just as the hot-selling mag had attracted ripoffs in its original run, the name lived on as a symbol of popular revolutionary menace — to be reclaimed by later generations in print and song.


La chanson du pere duchesne (live at RMZ)

* I know, right? Hebert was such a wild man, he thought ill of slavers.

Everywhere and at all times men of commerce have had neither heart nor soul: their cash-box is their God; they only know how to thieve and deceive; they would shave an egg, they would kidnap their own fathers; they traffic in all things, even human flesh; theirs are the ships which sail to the African coasts to capture negroes whom they then treat as worthless cattle.

** These rival factions linked as fellow-victims of Robespierre’s Terror are neatly symbolized by the spouses of their respective antipathetic scribblers: Jacques Hebert’s wife Marie, and Lucile Duplessis, wife of the Dantonist journalist Camille Desmoulins. Marie and Lucile were guillotined together that April, having forged a friendship while awaiting the chop.

† “The personal enemy of Jesus Christ,” Cloots called himself. He also remarked, “What is man’s chief enemy? Each man is his own.” A lot of enemies, this one had.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guillotine,History,Mass Executions,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,The Worm Turns,Treason

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1990: Farzad Bazoft, journalist

3 comments March 15th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1990, Iranian-born British journalist Farzad Bazoft was hanged at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison as an Israeli spy.

The 31-year-old Observer freelancer was in Iraq to cover post-war reconstruction when he caught wind of an explosion at a military factory and set off to investigate.

This sniffing about Iraq’s weapons programs was not the sort of journalism Iraqi dictator (and future fellow gallows-bird) Saddam Hussein had in mind when his government invited Bazoft.

Bazoft was nabbed (along with the British nurse who had accompanied him, Daphne Parish) with photographs and soil samples from the sensitive compound.

Held incommunicado for six weeks, Bazoft was trundled onto state TV on November 1, 1989 to confess to spying for Israel (video of that confession is available from this BBC story).

Bazoft’s companion, Daphne Parish, was released after a few months in prison. She wrote this out-of-print book about her experiences. (Review)

He was convicted of espionage in a one-day, in camera trial on March 10 and hanged five days later.

Many years and wars later, Bazoft’s Iraqi interrogator would tell Bazoft’s former Observer colleagues that the man “was obviously innocent,” but that his fate had been decided at the highest levels.*

A few months after Bazoft’s hanging, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and thereby transmogrified from a source of moderation in the region into the new Hitler, Bazoft’s execution naturally went onto the bill of attainder against Baghdad.

Like other Iraqi human rights abuses that became much bigger news only after Saddam became an official enemy, however, Bazoft’s fate exercised some of his defenders more in retrospect than it did in the moment.

Indeed, some British MPs openly endorsed the execution and some Fleet Street contrarians bucked the worldwide humanitarian appeal by publishing embarrassing information about Bazoft (he’d been to jail in Britain) leaked by British intelligence.

(Margaret Thatcher made the seemly applications for clemency, and the incident certainly strained the countries’ relationship. But the Tory government would later be embarrassed by revelations that, before and even after Bazoft’s hanging, it was pushing for closer trade relations and helping British firms skirt the law to ship Baghdad the weapons it would use against British troops in the coming Gulf War.)

* Bazoft is still honored by his former employer and his former colleagues, as well he might be. But the Observer‘s claim that it “proved” Bazoft’s innocence has to be taken with a grain of salt: apart from the de rigueur smoke-and-mirrors, plausible-deniability skein of the espionage game, the interrogator’s exculpatory statement was made by an obviously self-interested party to representatives of a power then occupying Iraq.

Although it’s a minority position subject to hot dispute, some people do believe that Bazoft was indeed a Mossad agent. Gordon Thomas, in Gideon’s Spies: The Secret History of the Mossad makes exactly that case.

Videotaped confession aside, Bazoft reputedly denied the espionage charge at the gallows.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Espionage,Execution,Hanged,History,Iraq,Torture,Wrongful Executions

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