2015: Siti Zainab

Add comment April 14th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 2015, in the Islamic holy city of Medina, Saudi Arabia beheaded Indonesian domestic worker Siti Zainab after a very long wait.

Zainab, a maid, was condemned to death in 1999 for stabbing to death her cruel* employer. Her execution went on pause for more than 15 years until all of the victim’s children could reach adulthood and exercise their right to enforce or mitigate the death sentence; still, for all that lead time, Saudi Arabia irked Jakarta by failing to notify consular offices of her impending beheading.

In addition to the usual controversies Saudi Arabia’s aggressive headsmen engender when dispatching the kingdom’s widely abused migrant workers, Zainab’s case raised hackles over the condemned woman’s alleged “suspected mental illness.”

* Cruel according to Zainab and her defenders. Indonesian NGO Migrant Care argued that the murder was outright self-defense.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Indonesia,Murder,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Ripped from the Headlines,Saudi Arabia,Women

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1995: Flor Contemplacion, OFW

1 comment March 17th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1995, Filipina maid Flor Contemplacion was hanged for murder in Singapore.

Contemplacion had, four years before, strangled a fellow-maid and drowned that maid’s four-year-old charge.

That’s what she confessed to, at least. Even though Contemplacion’s camp would eventually argue that the confession had been coerced, or that she’d been possessed by a strange epileptic, Contemplacion herself never really walked back that admission.

Still, Flor Contemplacion the cause celebre and Flor Contemplacion the cultural phenomenon was never only about the woman’s innocence, even if many do still believe she was framed.

By whatever happenstance of timing and circumstance, widespread publicity of her case in the Philippines during the months leading up to her hanging tapped a national discontent among her countrymen and -women about “OFWs” — overseas Filipino workers.

This economic sector — exported labor — had been intentionally nurtured (pdf) by Manila beginning with a 1974 labor code, and over the ensuing generation ballooned twentyfold into a positively enormous phenomenon.* By the time Flor Contemplacion hanged, everybody in the Philippines knew people who had worked overseas, and whose wage remittances were indispensable (pdf) for supporting their families in the Philippines. (And increasingly, the entire national economy.)


Boom of the overseas Filipino workers sector, 1975 – 2000 (1975 = 1). Source of figures; there are more official OFW stats here.

Ascendance of the OFW industry brought with it the discontents attendant with scattering wholesale quantities of the populace to unfamiliar corners of the globe, many of them to confront the timeless varieties of workplace abuse from positions of special vulnerability: “The dark reality,” one organization says this year, of “low wages, horrid working conditions, little protection for human rights, exploitation, harassment, threats, illegal arrests, imprisonment, criminalization, and deportation.”

To say nothing of the political discontents raised by such a discomfiting abdication of autarky, and the “domestic anxieties” (pdf) of developing “the embarrassing reputation that we are a country of DHs [domestic helpers], entertainers, and even prostitutes.” This is, truly, a rich and complex tapestry.

Flor Contemplacion is practically the patron saint of the indicted Filipino/a abroad, and her fruitless clemency appeal the political breakout of OFWs and their allies as a constituency to reckon with.

The effect was immediate. Contemplacion hadn’t had any great level of consular support early in her criminal process — the time when it might have made the most difference. (The Philippines embassy in Singapore later took considerable heat for this fact.)

But as the story made headlines and some sketchy witnesses accused the victim’s widower husband of being the real perpetrator, the case became a national sensation. Recently-elected president Fidel Ramos, who campaigned on restoring the previously-abolished death penalty in the Philippines, not only had to put on the full-court press for this condemned woman but incongruously declared her a “national hero”; his wife personally received Contemplacion’s remains at the airport. Leaders and ordinary people from Catholics to Communists rallied (sometimes rioted) in anger.

(Singapore was just at this time establishing its own reputation as the place that never gives diplomatically expedient clemencies. Never.)

Whatever the domestic controversies, the labor-export business has only continued to grow in the generation since Contemplacion’s hanging. To this day, the Filipino public has shown great sympathy with OFWs entangled in alien criminal justice systems, and demanded diplomatic support — regardless of particular individuals’ putative guilt.

Regrettably, it is often called to do so: from Saudi Arabia to China, the plight of Filipinos executed abroad remains a recurrent and emotionally charged theme in the country.

Flor Contemplacion’s name, well-known still anywhere in the archipelago, was back in the news last year … when her three sons all drew lifetime prison sentences for drug-smuggling.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Philippines,Popular Culture,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Ripped from the Headlines,Singapore,Women

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2005: Wang Binyu, desperate migrant laborer

3 comments October 19th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 2005, a Chinese murderer who became the unlikely symbol of migrant laborers’ desperate plight was — quickly and quietly — put to death.

Binyu knifed four people to death, which isn’t the typical stuff to earn a public outpouring. In the course of things, he’d ordinarily have gone to his grave in the anonymity that attends most Chinese executions, perhaps not even a number to international monitors who struggle to ballpark China’s executions to the nearest thousand.

But the government news service published a surprisingly sympathetic interview of him, raising the case up for public comment that state authorities surely did not intend.

Jobbed

Wang earned his sentence during an altercation that occurred as he tried to collect years of unpaid back wages from his employer. It was the last of several encounters of escalating desperation driven by Wang’s father’s need for expensive medical treatment. Wang’s boss kept refusing to settle with his man, ultimately barring him from the factory premises.

In a China shaken by industrialization — proletarianization — Wang’s plight struck a chord. (Although there may have been a mistaken sense that he killed the nasty boss; in fact, the victims were the foreman and other factory employees who’d been detailed to force him out.) China has 200 million migrant workers like Wang, collectively owed billions in unpaid wages they have scant prospect of recovering.

I want to die. When I am dead, nobody can exploit me anymore. Right?

Exploitation at an end, Wang Binyu became the subject of a Pulitzer Prize-winning profile* in the New York Times; some additional coverage is here. The briefly vigorous conversation about his case in China, however, was forcibly shut down.

* The Pulitzer was actually awarded to the Times’ Joseph Kahn and Jim Yardley for a series of articles on the Chinese justice system; the linked story on Wang Binyu is one of eight.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,China,Common Criminals,Crime,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Murder,Pelf,Popular Culture,Ripped from the Headlines,Shot

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