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 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.
Laos has handed over to Chinese police a drug lord suspected of masterminding the execution-like killing of 13 Chinese seamen last October on the Mekong River. Naw Kham, seen, right, in transit at Vientiane airport, is a Burmese in his 40s and said to lead a heavily armed drugs trafficking gang. He was arrested on April 25, assumedly in Laos, and has been flown to Beijing.
Along with Myanmar and Thailand, China and Laos have been conducting joint armed police patrols along the often lawless upper reaches of the Mekong since last December. The area is part of the Golden Triangle, long notorious as a stronghold of Shan and Wu drug lords. They have increasingly attacked shipping on the river that refuses to pay protection money, seizing the vessels to carry amphetamines and other drugs downriver to Thailand, the region’s largest market for amphetamines, according to the UNODC. Naw Kham’s gang is believed by Chinese authorities to have been involved in 28 such attacks on Chinese freighters, some allegedly with the compliance of renegade Thai soldiers from an anti-narcotics unit.
Chinese vessels have been particularly subject to such attacks as they dominate shipping on the river, an important trade conduit between Yunnan and Southeast Asia. The four-country patrols, initiated last December after shipping on the Mekong had become too dangerous for most vessels to undertake, are lead by Chinese law-enforcement authorities. They have provided Beijing with an opportunity to play a greater security role along a regionally strategic waterway.