Dead show walking: China's death row interviews series faces axe

Beijing

There were question marks yesterday over the future of one of China's most popular television shows, "Interviews Before Execution", in which death row prisoners are interviewed shortly before their execution, after its presenter was the subject of a BBC documentary.

The aim of the show, which has been broadcast by Legal TV channel for the past five years and is anchored by Yu Ding, is to highlight the deterrent effect of the death sentence by showing prisoners, sometimes minutes before they are shot or killed by lethal injection.

However, the show may have become the victim of its own success after international TV stations, including the BBC, made documentaries about the programme.

"Interviews Before Execution" is not broadcast nationwide, but episodes can be viewed online. Some appeared to have been taken down yesterday.

There was confusion last night about the future of the show. News reports yesterday that suggested it was being cancelled because of "internal problems" were denied by officials at Legal TV.

The show screens to millions in Henan, China's most populous province, every week. While it is gruesome and voyeuristic, it is also considered compulsive viewing.

Ms Yu has interviewed more than 200 men and women. Prisoners who have featured on the show include a murderer who had just turned 18 at the time of his conviction, a man who defiled his mother's dead body after killing her, and a gang who kidnapped a girl and killed her when the family could not raise the ransom.

She does not believe the show is exploitative. "Some viewers may consider it cruel to ask a criminal to do an interview when they are about to be executed. On the contrary, they want to be heard," she said in an interview with the BBC.

"Some criminals I interviewed told me: 'I'm really very glad. I said so many things in my heart to you at this time. In prison, there was never a person I was willing to talk to about past events'."

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