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March 1, 2013

"Chinese TV Special on Executions Stirs Debate"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new New York Times article, which gets started this way:

During a two-hour television broadcast that was part morality play, part propaganda tour de force, the Chinese government on Friday sent four foreign drug traffickers to their deaths after convicting them of killing 13 Chinese sailors two years ago as they sailed down the Mekong River through Myanmar.

Although the live program ended shortly before the men were executed by lethal injection, it became an instantly polarizing sensation, with viewers divided on whether the broadcast was a crass exercise in blood lust or a long-awaited catharsis for a nation outraged by the killings in October 2011.  Some critics said the program recalled an era not long ago when condemned prisoners were paraded through the streets before being shot in the head.

“Rather than showcasing rule of law, the program displayed state control over human life in a manner designed to attract gawkers,” Han Youyi, a criminal law professor, wrote via microblog.  “State-administered violence is no loftier than criminal violence.”  One prominent rights lawyer, Liu Xiaoyuan, insisted that the show, by the national broadcaster CCTV, violated Chinese criminal code by making a spectacle of the condemned.  “I found it shocking,” he said in an interview.

The program largely focused on Naw Kham, the Burmese ringleader of a drug gang who was accused of orchestrating the brutal execution of the sailors and then making the crime appear drug related.  In a nation where millions work overseas, sometimes in dangerous corners of the world, the killings were especially unsettling.  Last April, six men, including Mr. Naw Kham, were apprehended in Laos by a team of investigators that included officers from China, Thailand, Laos and Myanmar.

Mr. Naw Kham and his accomplices were convicted last November during a two-day trial in China’s southwest Yunnan Province.  The condemned men, including a Laotian, a Thai and a third of “unknown nationality,” reportedly confessed to the crime.

The two other men who escaped execution received long prison terms.  Last month a Chinese public security official told a newspaper that Beijing had considered using a drone strike to kill Mr. Naw Kham but later decided to capture him alive.  Given the considerable viewership on Friday, that decision proved to be a public relations coup.

The program included interviews with triumphant police officers, images of the condemned men in shackles and the sort of blustery talking heads that would be familiar to American cable television audiences.  The graphic elements that flashed behind the CCTV news anchor featured the tagline “Killing the Kingpin.”...

In a commentary posted on Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, CCTV defended the program, saying it demonstrated China’s commitment to justice.  “There were no glimpses of the execution.  We only saw the drug ringleaders’ weaknesses and fear of death,” it said.  “In contrast to brutal murder by his gang, the methodical court trial and humane injections have shown the dignity and civilizing effects of rule of law.”

Shortly before the men were led from their cells to the van that would take them to the death chamber, a reporter asked Mr. Naw Kham to talk about his family and then taunted him by showing him photos of the victims’ relatives.  “I want to raise my children and have them educated,” Mr. Naw Kham said with a faint smile on his face.  “I don’t want to die.”

I think one could have lots distinct reactions to this notable effort to make more public and prominent the administration of capital justice in China.  But, especially in light of on-going US controversies concerning drone warfare, I find especially interesting the report that this programming was only made possible because China decided not  using a drone strike to kill Mr. Naw Kham while he was in another country.  I wonder if folks who are most troubled by the US use of drone strikes will be quick to praise China for employing a notable different (and much more public and transparent) means to achieve a form of international justice.

March 1, 2013 at 03:03 PM | Permalink

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Comments

Executions should not be broadcast because of 1) the rewarding properties of public attention; 2) the well established contagion by media effect, prompting many other murders in imitation; 3) the trap of publicized malfunction as pretext set by the abolitionist extremist.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 2, 2013 12:41:40 AM

Bravo DAB for describing "capital justice" and "international justice" without ne're a hint of consternation. Capital justice for a capital crime is objective justice, indeed.

Posted by: Adamakis | Mar 2, 2013 11:40:56 AM

( with ne' er a hint)

Posted by: Adamakis | Mar 2, 2013 11:57:42 AM

Taking the broadcast as a distinctive event, it was both voyeuristic and sadistic. Simply an affront to the dignity of man, which shames those charged with the implementation of law and punishment. It has nothing at all to do with the concept of Justice, international or not.
On the use or otherwise of drones strikes "to achieve a form of international justice", the fact is they are a threat to international peace, and break all notion of international justice by the too frequent results of "collateral damage", loss of innocent life (murder), and intrusion into the space of sovereign states. If all we have to look forward to in the future are drone wars and armies of cybermen, the world is not going to be a very happy place. America has unleashed a monster that seems certain to blight the future of humanity.

Posted by: peter | Mar 2, 2013 4:33:11 PM

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