1979: Ignatius Kutu Acheampong, former dictator of Ghana

2 comments June 16th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1979, former Ghanaian military strongman Ignatius Kutu Acheampong was shot in the aftermath of Jerry Rawlings’ successful coup d’etat.

Acheampong had executed a coup of his own in 1972 and run the unsteady West African state for most of the 1970s — a period of economic and political crisis — until he himself was toppled by another General, Fred Akuffo.

Acheampong was retired to his home village by the new regime, but he would not enjoy such satisfactory treatment when a national revolution ended Akuffo’s reign and brought junior officer Jerry Rawlings to power.

Less than two weeks after Rawlings was installed as Ghana’s new head of state, Acheampong was executed on a charge of corruption. This would not sate the considerable popular anger at the outgoing military clique, which went on to gorge itself on Akuffo and five others later that same month.

Former NFL defensive back Charlie Peprah is Acheampong’s grandson.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Ghana,Heads of State,History,Political Expedience,Politicians,Power,Shot,Soldiers

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1979: Gu Shan, of The Vagrants fame

1 comment March 21st, 2010 dogboy

It’s the spring equinox, but here at Executed Today, this date brings no bunnies or pastels.

However, in the spirit of softness, it brings this time only a fictional execution.

On this date in 1979, Gu Shan, the central character of Yiyun Li‘s novel The Vagrants gets a bullet to the heart in the Chinese town of Muddy River. The novel traces the lives of several townspeople in Muddy River who are touched by Shan’s death.

The short life of Gu Shan is secondary to the action of the novel itself: first a revolutionary, then a counter-revolutionary, the 28-year-old is imprisoned for acting against the government. As she sits in jail, she continues to write, and the scribbles in her journals are used in a retrial to garner a death sentence.

In a town of 80,000, her actions can be both consequential and inconsequential, but the people around her are a wholly forgotten lot. In a sense, then, Shan is important mostly because she’s noticed, and, as the saying goes, that really ties the room together.

The story tracks a cluster of characters who interact on the streets but live very different — almost uniformly bleak — lives. These range from Nini, a deformed girl whose mother was brutally assaulted by Shan when the latter was a revolutionary (a crime for which Shan suffered no consequences) to Bashi, the deranged son of China’s best Korean War-era pilot, who mutilates Shan’s corpse and shows a mild obsession for a 7-year-old boy.

Muddy River plays host to dozens of other characters connected to the execution, and Li paints a vividly depressing picture of China immediately after Mao Zedong’s death. The town is a collection of sad lives mired in moral depravity brought about by destitution and Party corruption. The most positive events transpire in quarters in a portable toilet.

Assuming you’re not looking for a pick-me-up on this equinoctial day (and why would you be at this blog if you were?), The Vagrants is well worth the read.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,China,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Fictional,Shot

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1979: Four Generals of the Shah

16 comments February 15th, 2010 Headsman

Shortly before midnight this date in 1979, Iranian royalist Generals Mehdi Rahimi, Reza Naji, Manuchehr Khosrodad, and Nematollah Nassiri were shot in a Tehran school courtyard after a snap trial by the newborn Iranian revolutionary regime.

General Mehdi Rahimi.

The Iranian Revolution had only just overthrown the remains of the absconded Shah’s regime; the country observes the “Decade of Fajr” over the first 11 days of February, commemorating the “Dawn” of the Islamic Republic from the return of Ayatollah Khomeini to the fall of the luckless loyalists installed by Pahlavi on his way out the door.

In this uncertain situation, the new regime seized its newfound authority … violently.

General Rahimi — probably the most voluptuously eulogized of the bunch — still pulls tribute for his loyalty to the collapsing monarchy, and his salute to the Shah even when in revolutionary custody.

Lower-profile to posterity, Naji had once governed Isfahan under martial law; Khosrodad was a general of the air force; and Nassiri headed the hated secret police SAVAK.

All were convicted of the catch-all charge of “corruption on earth” (just imagine what they’d do with the banksters!), and upon a quick confirmation of sentence from Khomeini, immediately shot. (Their property was also confiscated.)


See? Shot.

The notorious hanging judge who chaired the drumhead tribunal later recalled in his memoirs

The first people I tried and punished for their deeds were Nematollah Nasiri, head of SAVAK, and Khosrodad, air force commander; Naji, martial law administrator of Esfahan, and Rahimi, martial law administrator of Tehran and head of police force. … All the people who were sentenced to death by the Revolutionary Tribunals were the best examples of ‘corruptor on earth’ and they were executed as such.

A Corruptor on earth is a person who contributes to spreading and expanding corruption on earth. Corruption is what leads to the decline, destruction and the deviation of society from its nature. People who were executed had strived in spreading corruption and prostitution, circulating heroin, opium and licentious behavior, atheism, murder, betrayal, flattery, and, in sum, all these vile qualities. These people’s problems were aggravated by the fact that they did not repent once they saw the people’s revolution.

I believed at the time, and I still believe, that all the parliamentarians and senators, all governors, heads of SAVAK and police, who held office after 1963 and the Imam’s boycott, should be sentenced to death. High-ranking ministry officials who were instrumental in the survival of the [Shah’s] apparatus and who, for getting close to the Shah and his family, would accept any humiliation are all convicted (condemned).

To sum up, all the people that I condemned and who were executed in the early days of the establishment of the Revolutionary Tribunals and later in the Qasr prison were all corruptors on earth and, based on the Quran, their blood was a waste.

(The executions were announced on February 16, and that date is sometimes cited as the execution date. Feb. 15 appears to be more strongly attested to me. Whatever the clock said, these men’s deaths marked the start of a juridical bloodbath.)

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,History,Iran,Martyrs,Milestones,Notable Participants,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Treason

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1979: Hafizullah Amin

7 comments December 27th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1979, the 104-day term of Afghan president Hafizullah Amin met a violent end as a Soviet-engineered coup raised the curtain on a war destined to bring misery to both Cold War combatants.

The Soviet Union’s ongoing intervention in Afghan politics had through the 1970’s steadily mired it deeper into an unstable political situation.

Now, it was running out of patience with the country’s president, Hafizullah Amin.

He’d got the best of rival Nur Mohammad Taraki in a power struggle that September, but to the political chaos and the blossoming Islamic insurgency roiling his country, Amin added a level of brutality that was all his own, and a streak of diplomatic independence that was distinctly unwelcome in Moscow.

Amin was a Communist himself, and both he and the predecessor he’d murdered had wanted ever-increasing Soviet aid to keep the country stable.

But that proved to be a Faustian bargain.

Though Kabul radio would announce that Amin had been tried and summarily executed for “crimes against the state,” the short-lived dictator’s fate had been decided two weeks before when the Soviet Politburo passed a secret resolution for his ouster — having lost whatever confidence it had once held in him as a dependable satellite governor.

“The Soviet Union,” said the New York Times in a more innocent time,

has seemed deeply troubled by the inability of either the Taraki or Amin governments to put down the rebellions in Afghanistan, which have been largely tribal but also militantly anti-Communist.

Amin survived a KGB poisoning, so the Red Army dispensed with subtlety by raiding the palace, plucking their preferred satrap out of exile in eastern Europe to take Amin’s place.

It would not see the last of Afghanistan until 10 years, 15,000 Soviet dead, and hundreds of thousands of Afghan casualties later.


A memorial in Ekaterinburg, Russia, to the Soviet dead in the Afghan war. Image courtesy of beatdrifter (Andy Holmes).

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Afghanistan,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Heads of State,History,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Politicians,Power,Russia,Shot,Summary Executions,Treason,USSR,Wartime Executions

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1979: Francisco Macías Nguema, President for Life

1 comment September 29th, 2008 Headsman

In the early afternoon this date, Equatorial Guinea’s former President for Life was sentenced to death with six aides at the end of a four-day trial for murder, treason, embezzlement, and genocide.

That evening, the seven were shot at Malabo’s Blabich Prison.

Nguema Biyoto Masie, nee Francisco Macías Nguema, rose from the Spanish colonial bureaucracy to win the first post-independence presidency of the minuscule African state.

He quickly created a one-party state and increasingly nutty cult of personality, answering to such horror-comic nicknames as “Unique Miracle”.

Nguema’s Unique Miracle for Equatorial Guinea was a Pol Pot-style catastrophe, killing or driving out most of the population (including Nguema’s own wife), eviscerating the economy, and getting into military brinksmanship with neighboring Nigeria.*

His nephew, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, overthrew him a few weeks before this date. Despite the speedy resolution of the case, international observers on the scene considered it a fair enough trial and the dictator’s guilt duly established; procedurally, the execution happened immediately because he was tried by the highest court in the land and there was nowhere to appeal.


Francisco Macias Nguema during his trial.

Still, the shooting itself was handled by hired Moroccan troops, rather than citizens of Equatorial Guinea: Nguema had convinced quite a lot of people that he had magic powers, and the locals weren’t eager to be the ones to test the proposition.

Bloody but necessary first step to parliamentary democracy?

Not quite. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, one of the worst dictators you’ve never heard of, still runs Equatorial Guinea in much the manner of his predecessor to this day.


Did we mention that Equatorial Guinea has oil?

* Francisco Macias Nguema’s daughter, “Empress Bella Syttam Macias”, lives in Utah and defends her dad. She seems to have been too young to have been personally involved in anything unsavory in the 70’s.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Crimes Against Humanity,Death Penalty,Equatorial Guinea,Execution,Heads of State,History,Infamous,Mass Executions,Murder,Notable Jurisprudence,Politicians,Shot,The Worm Turns,Theft,Treason

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1979: Eleven by a Firing Squad in Iran

14 comments August 27th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1979, the only anonymous photograph to win a Pulitzer Prize captured nine Kurdish rebels and two of the Shah’s policemen executed by firing squad in revolutionary Iran.

This shot, one of a series taken of the event with the permission of the judge who condemned the men to immediate death in a half-hour trial at the Sanandaj airfield, ran the next day in the Iranian paper Ettela’at, whose editor prudently kept the photographer’s identity secret. Within two days, the stunning photo had rocketed around the world.

It won the Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography the following spring, still credited anonymously.

Two years ago, the Wall Street Journal revealed — with the photographer’s permission — the identity of the man who shot this indelible image: Jahangir Razmi, who had gone on to a career as one of Iran’s top photographic journalists. He came to New York to collect the prize 27 years late.

The article breaking the story is still available on the Journal‘s website, and on the personal site of reporter Joshua Prager. An NPR story discussing the search for Razmi’s identity is here.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Iran,Malaysia,Mass Executions,Mature Content,Murder,Popular Culture,Power,Public Executions,Ripped from the Headlines,Shot,Summary Executions,Treason

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1979: Two former dictators of Ghana with four of their aides

3 comments June 26th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1979, the putschist government of Ghana shot former military rulers Frederick William Kwasi Akuffo and Akwasi Amankwaa Afrifa along with four others at the Teshie Military Range for corruption.

Twenty-two years before, Ghana had become the first black sub-Saharan former colony to gain independence, but after a 1966 coup it had staggered through political and economic chaos. Six different men had been head of state in that span, three of them deposed by coups. By 1979, General Fred Akuffo‘s government was the target of explosive anger.

Enter Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings, who had actually failed in a coup attempt in May and was in line for execution himself before his mates toppled the government on June 4.

Seeking to stabilize the situation — and, Rawlings himself has said, riding the tiger of popular fury — the new government served up a few high-profile morsels on charges of pilfering the treasury in order to forestall a general slaughter of senior officers by the armed forces’ lower ranks.

There was no alternative. We had to contain it within the military so it didn’t spill into the civil front — if it had it would have been terrible.

We had no choice but to sacrifice the most senior ones — the commanders.

Another former head of state, Gen. Ignatius Kutu Acheamphong, had been shot earlier in the month; on this date, Akuffo and Gen. Akwasi Afrifa, one of the original 1966 plotters who had ruled Ghana in 1969-70, followed him. Afrifa, ironically, had written to Acheamphong worrying that political upheaval and military discipline could find them … well, where it eventually found them:

I feel greatly disturbed about the future after the government … In order to discourage the military from staging coups in the future, how about if they line all of us up and shot us one by one? I do not certainly want to be arrested, given some sort of trial and shot.

All these shootings had an unseemly character of haste and summary justice; charges against the four senior ministers* shot along with the former rulers have struck an especially sour note. Rawlings has claimed that he only wanted the two former heads of state shot and tried unsuccessfully to stop the other four executions.

I attempted to prevent it and sent an officer but the firing squad shot the officers before their commander could give the order … you must understand our country was in a state of rage then, not different from what Russia was when it had its revolution.

I was a partial hostage to that situation. I had no force. The authority that I enjoyed was my moral authority with the people. Their action (the execution of the senior officers by the boys) was to curtail the anger of the nation.

Rawlings would hand power over to a civilian government, which he then overthrew again in 1981 — looking like this:

He would run Ghana for the next two decades, the last eight years after winning elections. Rawlings’ legacy is much up for debate, but to many he cuts the figure of a benevolent dictator (how many former strongmen have fan pages?) whose human rights abuses were mild in the scheme of things and helped usher in a relatively prosperous and democratic Ghana that stands a very far cry from the country he took over in 1979.

Rawlings himself has graduated to a sort of global elder statesman — for instance, he recently called for fair elections in Zimbabwe. And he has not been hesitant to justify his political actions, as in this interesting BBC interview from 2005 — in which, pressed on the executions of the former state ministers, he concedes:

There were some of them who probably deserved it. Pardon me for putting it that way. There were some of them who did not — very brilliant, beautiful officers. But we had no choice but to make that sacrifice.

The bodies of all the officers executed in June of 1979 were exhumed for “fitting burial” under Rawlings’ successor in 2001.

* One of the aides held the Ghanaian high jump record at the time of his death, a mark not surpassed until 1996.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Athletes,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Ghana,Heads of State,History,Mass Executions,Pelf,Political Expedience,Politicians,Power,Reprieved Too Late,Shot,Soldiers,Theft,Wrongful Executions

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