Four men were paraded in ropes and chains on Chinese state television today before being taken away and executed for the murder of 13 Chinese fishermen on the Mekong river two years ago.
The broadcast sparked outrage on China’s social networking sites, with many condemning the footage as an affront that rekindled memories of the execution rallies that used to held in China in Communist times. The broadcaster, CCTV, later announced the men’s execution on Twitter.
One of the men, Naw Kham, was a powerful Burmese drug lord known as “The Godfather” who operated in the Golden Triangle of Thailand, Laos and Burma. The others executed by lethal injection were Hsang Kham from Thailand, Yi Lai, who was stateless, and Zha Xika from Laos, the Xinhua news agency reported.
The men were put to death in Kunming, Yunnan province, and CCTV News showed live footage of the men being taken to the execution site, although it stopped short of showing the actual executions. This is the first time in many years that such footage has been shown on Chinese TV.
“I couldn’t sleep properly over the last two days. I miss my mother. It is really painful that I can’t be with my children,” Mr Kham told CCTV. “My mum didn’t know when I was arrested, and I am worrying that she won’t be able to take it when she finds out.”
Mr Kham and his gang planned and colluded with Thai soldiers in an attack on two Chinese flat-bottomed cargo ships, the Hua Ping and Yu Xing 8, in October 2011 on the upper reaches of the Mekong. Thirteen Chinese sailors died in the attack.
The murder was one of the deadliest assaults on Chinese nationals overseas in modern times and Beijing sent gunboat patrols to the region.
The Mekong provides a vital trade and transportation route between south-western China and South-east Asia, for both legitimate and illegal goods. That stretch of the river is home to many gangs who oversee the production and distribution of heroin and methamphetamine.
Beijing had considered using a drone strike to kill Mr Kham, but instead he was captured in Laos and brought to China in May to stand trial. “Given the current situation, since the downfall of Naw Kham’s gang, the security of Mekong waters has been fine,” Wu Ruzhen, liaison officer to Burma from China’s Ministry of Public Security, told Xinhua.
The ships were later recovered downriver by Thai police following a dramatic shootout with gangsters. Some of the 13 victims had been tied up before being shot or stabbed. The gang members later told the court that the men had been killed because the ship’s owners had refused to pay protection money, and the vessels were used by Thai and Laotian soldiers to attack local drug bases.
Another two members of the gang, identified as Zha Bo and Zha Tuobo, received a death sentence with reprieve and eight years in prison, respectively.