Tom Fearon

Professional communicator in Canberra

Media Plays Hangman in Execution Show

Mar. 4, 2013

By Tom Fearon

Illustration: Peter Espina/GT

It's hard to imagine what the media hoped to achieve from its live coverage last Friday of four convicted foreign killers being paraded to their deaths for murdering 13 Chinese sailors on the Mekong River in 2011.

In a grisly throwback to the Middle Ages, each of the men spent their final moments being publicly marched before an audience divided emotionally between disgust and delight. 

Like animals being hogtied before slaughter, Myanmar drug lord Naw Kham and his three accomplices - Hsang Kham from Thailand, Yi Lai, stateless, and Zha Xika from Laos -  grimaced before the flash of cameras while trussed with restraining ropes before being driven away to meet their fate. 

Expressions of the condemned men varied, ranging from Naw's anxious smile to Zha's wide-eyed look of terror. Thankfully, China Central Television (CCTV) stopped short of showing the actual moments the men were put to death. 

The infamous killers spared their victims no mercy, but did they deserve such an undignified end to their criminal lives? Normally, the lead-up to executions is only witnessed by prison officials and victims' family members. Did justice for the slain Chinese crewmen demand broadcasting a degrading dead man walking act to a national audience?

CCTV-13, one channel flick away from the national broadcaster's child-friendly cartoon network, kicked off its two-hour "execution special" at 1:30 pm. 

It opened by bringing viewers the latest on the Golden Triangle "gang of four" from their prison cells, detailing how the men were so anxious the day before they had used the toilet "every 10 minutes" and declined to eat fruit given to them. 

Next was a recap of the killers' downfall, complete with an animated reenactment accompanied by ominous music that showed how they were apprehended. Footage of their trial was then screened, climaxing with a low-angle shot of the judge reading out their death sentences.

In a final chilling twist, Naw's eve of execution interview with CCTV reporter Wu Chuang was aired moments before the kingpin himself marched down Kunming's "green mile." Dressed in a gray sweater under a faded yellow prisoner vest, the 43-year-old Buddhist told Wu in jittery Chinese he hadn't slept in two days. 

"I miss my mother," mumbled the father-of-10, forcing a nervous smile. "Good people will turn bad in the Golden Triangle, you can't resist the temptation."

Wu then showed Naw a photo of a grieving mother of one of the murdered Chinese sailors, asking if he knows who she is. He didn't, but offered empathy - if not an apology - when informed. 

"I have sent money to the relatives of the victims. Their pains are just like mine," he said.

Subjecting condemned criminals to a modern-day media circus for their final panicked breaths is difficult to justify. It might reaffirm that rule of law in China applies to all irrespective of nationality, but it comes at a crippling cost of human dignity.

Regardless of whether you support the death penalty or not in China, as long as it remains a part of the country's legal system, it should avoid spiraling into a public sideshow that further castigates criminals already facing the ultimate punishment. 

See the original article here.