China's Bin Laden Almost Got Executed on a Two-Hour Primetime TV Special

The Atlantic Wire

Earlier today, Chinese television aired two hours of footage showing the final preparations for the execution of four men, including the man some considered China's Osama bin Laden. It was the first time in decades the state had shown such an occasion, though it ended the broadcast just before the criminals' execution by lethal injection.

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The crime at the center of the punishment drew massive attention in China. The condemned men — none of whom were Chinese — were sentenced to die last fall after being convicted of murdering a dozen sailors on two Chinese cargo ships in the Mekong River delta. When Chinese officials were unable to capture the alleged ringleader of the attack, Naw Kham, they at one time considered targeting his compound with a drone strike, opting instead for the capture and trial of him and his accomplices. The hunt and eventual capture of the Burmese Kham is what prompted some media outlets to draw the bin Laden comparison.

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Footage from a broadcast that aired yesterday, showing the condemned men

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The Times articulates what viewers saw:

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 included the tagline “Kill the Kingpin.”

In one segment, Liu Yuejin, director general of the central government’s Narcotics Control Bureau, cast the executions as not only an important victory for a newly confident China but also for ethnic Chinese across the globe. “In the past, overseas Chinese dared not say they were of Chinese origin,” he said. “Now they can hold their heads high and be themselves.”

Supporters of the program were many, and enthusiastic. One blogger suggested that death by lethal injection was too lenient, adding “These beasts should be pulled apart by vehicles.”

Reuters also points out that others were less enthusiastic.

"They tied him in ropes and paraded him in front of 1.3 billion Chinese -- is this what the human rights the government always stresses is really all about?" wrote on user on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo microblog.

"I know they killed 13 Chinese people and it was a terrible thing, but it's really not appropriate to live broadcast the execution process like this and it goes against Supreme Court rules," wrote another.

Image from CCTV

Today's broadcast on state television echoed "Interviews Before Execution," a show on Henan province television that ran from 2006 until last year. On that show, interviewer Ding Yu spoke with men and women condemned to death, with the aim of identifying "suitable subjects to educate the public." There have been any number of American studies on the question of whether capital punishment deters crime, with most suggesting a weak link at best.

Shanghaiist gathered English-language tweets describing the broadcast, including these last two.

CCTV-9 Chinese state TV in English now running video of prisoners in handcuffs, surrounded by police, as they head to execution facility.

— Melissa Chan (@melissakchan) March 1, 2013

Scared, blank looks of prisoners as state media reporters' flash cameras go off and police ferry prisoners to car. #chinaexecutions

— Melissa Chan (@melissakchan) March 1, 2013
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