‘Live TV’ Execution Of Mekong Murders Mastermind Stirs Controversy

China’s execution of Naw Kham, a drug lord convicted of masterminding the execution-like killing of 13 Chinese seamen on the Mekong River in October 2011, has whipped up a storm of controversy for its lead-up being carried live on state TV. Laos had extradited Naw Kham, a Burmese, and three of his gang, one Thai, one Lao and one stateless, to China in May 2012. They were convicted and sentenced to death by a Kunming court last November. CCTV, in a live two hour broadcast, showed the men being taken from their cells and subsequently prepared for execution by lethal injection. It did not air footage from inside the death chamber.

Naw Kham (C), head of an armed drug gang, is seen during a transferring at Laos' Vientiane Wattay International airport, May 10, 2012. Naw Kham, a drug lord suspected of masterminding the murder of 13 Chinese sailors on the Mekong River last year was transferred to Chinese police here on Thursday. (Xinhua/Thanakone)

Naw Kham being handed over to Chinese authorities in May 2012

Condemned criminals were once commonly paraded before their execution but the practice is now rare, and certainly on live TV. Yu Guoming, a professor at Renmin University’s School of Mass Media, was quoted as saying the broadcast was a response to widespread outrage in China over the brutality of the killings, as well as an attempt to emphasize the heinousness of the crime and the efficiency of China’s police and courts in doling out justice. Civil rights activists have criticized the broadcast as an affront to human dignity.

The broadcast was also likely an attempt by authorities to reassure Chinese that their government is paying attention to the safety of its nationals abroad as China’s increasing global reach puts more of its citizens in harm’s way around the world.

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