Friday saw the execution of the perpetrators of one of the deadliest assaults on Chinese overseas nationals in modern times. Whilst the nature of the crime shocked many, the treatment of the convicts by China’s state media has many Chinese equally, and understandably, outraged.
Before the four criminals were led away in ropes and chains to be administered lethal injections, they were paraded on Chinese state television. Charged with the murder of 13 Chinese fishermen on the Mekong river two years ago, their final moments were co-opted by the government to send an emphatic political message to the general public about China’s security policy.
Juxtaposing images of bombastic displays of Chinese military might on the Mekong river with those of the final moments of men facing up the national justice, the meaning was clear; China will take no second measures when it comes to protecting the security of the nation, both inside and outside national borders.
The criminals at the centre of the storm were Naw Kham, a powerful Burmese drug lord, and three of his henchmen. Their crime, an attack on two Chinese cargo ships on one of the most vital transportation routes between South-western China and South-east Asia, prompted an epic man hunt and almost unprecedented intervention by China into international waters. The final capture of Naw Kham was portrayed with sensationalism akin to the US capture of Bin Laden.
For those that had lived under Mao however, the CCTV broadcast, and later update on the executions over Twitter, stirred memories of far more dangerous times
In his last moments, Naw Kham stated, “I haven’t been able to sleep for two days. I have been thinking too much. I miss my mum. I don’t want my children to be like me.”
For those that had lived under Mao however, the CCTV broadcast, and later update on the executions over Twitter, stirred memories of far more dangerous times, when execution rallies would be screened to the masses during the darkest days of China’s Communist regime. Although cameras were cut before the sentences were carried out, many took to social media to vent their shock and horror that once again, for the first time in years, the death penalty is being used as a media tool.
Lawyer Tao Jiamei claimed that the act was an infringement of Chinese criminal procedure law, which states that executions “should be announced, but should not be publicly exposed”.
China is said to execute up to 8,000 people a year, however some human rights groups argue that the true number could be even higher. In either case, the country carries out more executions annually than anywhere else in the world, . Whilst there is widespread support for capital punishment in the region, there is also growing demand for greater government transparency on true execution statistics.