Death: Country and Gender Differences


Countries Take Different Approaches to Executions

Capital punishment is as fundamentally wrong as a cure for crime as charity is wrong as a cure for poverty.

- Henry Ford

Executions by the hundreds: Officers take a female convict to the executioner immediately after a sentencing rally in Beijing in April

by Martin Fackler

Beijing - The 10 convicted drug traffickers were marched one by one into the stadium, wrists and ankles in shackles.  Under a bright August sun, armed guards lined them up, heads bowed, in front of 3,000 onlookers.

A city official read the sentence: death.

The 10 listened expressionless, though one managed a grin when a reporter pointed a camera.  Then the guards marched them out of the stadium and onto a pair of trucks.  Wailing relatives ran after the trucks, which sped off to an execution ground on the city's outskirts.  The executions were not public, but China usually puts people to death by pistol shot to the chest or back of the head.  Such rallies are common in China, though this one in August 1996 in the southern city of Shenzhen was unusual because a foreign reporter, from The Associated Press, witnessed it.

China was one of 28 nations that executed people last year as punishment for crime, according to Amnesty International.  The human rights group, which opposes the death penalty, says four countries have given it up since 1991.  Methods vary, from hanging and firing squad to beheading by sword in Saudi Arabia.

Amnesty counted 1,457 executions last year, but says the real number is likely much higher.  It says at least 1,000 were executed in China.  The United States executed 85 people last year, 80 by lethal injection.  This year's count will include Timothy McVeigh, scheduled to die Monday by injection for bombing a federal building in Oklahoma in 1995, killing 168 people.  Four other countries use lethal injection: Guatemala, the Philippines, Taiwan and China, which began experimenting with injections in 1997.

Guatemala broadcast the execution of Amilcar Cetino Perez and Tomas Cerrate Hernandez on live television last June.  The pair were sentenced to death for the 1997 kidnapping and murder of an elderly heir to a liquor distillery fortune.  The television showed Cetino's hand quivering and then falling still.  Execution is also a public spectacle in Saudi Arabia, where strict Islamic law mandates the death penalty for murder, rape, drug trafficking, sodomy and armed robbery.

On 24 April 2000, Himat Saeed Haroon, a Sudanese convicted of ax-murdering another man in his sleep, was led handcuffed and barefoot into a public square before the main mosque in the capital, Riyadh.  His eyes were covered with cotton pads and his head wrapped with black cloth.  Sedated, Haroon was made to kneel on a blue plastic sheet on the asphalt.  An Interior Ministry official read his name and crime to a gathering crowd.  A soldier handed a long, curved sword to the executioner.  He jabbed the tip into Haroon's back, forcing reflexes to raise the neck.  A single swing severed the head.  Later, out of respect for the dead, the head was sown back onto the body for burial.

Amnesty International says Saudi Arabia carried out at least 123 executions last year, making it second only to China - which has almost 100 times more people.  Most were beheaded.  Bodies of those convicted of particularly gruesome crimes are crucified following decapitation, Amnesty says.

Iran executed 75 people last year, by firing squads inside prisons or in public by hanging the condemned from a construction crane.  The hangings draw large crowds, including friends and relatives of the condemned and the victim.  Sometimes the crowds call out for mercy or justice.  Iran's version of Islamic law gives the family of a murder victim the right to demand death, or grant mercy in the form of a prison term.  In one famous case at the beginning of last year, 17-year-old Morteza Amini Moqaddam, hands cuffed, tears streaking his face, was already in the noose and seconds from death when the victim's father told authorities to call it off.  He had been moved by pleas from the boy's family and many of the 4,000 onlookers.

Afghanistan takes capital punishment a step further, allowing the victim's father or brother to machine-gun the condemned person in a sports stadium.  Afghan women convicted of adultery are stoned to death.  Men found guilty of sodomy are crushed under a wall that is made to collapse.  Scholars say these punishments reflect ancient tribal traditions rather than Islamic law.

In Congo, death comes by firing squad.  Last year, as many as 100 civilians may have been executed by a special military court originally set up to try soldiers, Amnesty International says.  Those convicted by the court can ask Congo's president for clemency.  But people have been executed within 30 minutes of being sentenced, Amnesty says.

Most African countries have abolished the death penalty in recent years on humanitarian grounds.  An exception is Botswana, which hanged a South African woman on 31 March.  Mariette Bosch, 49, was convicted of murdering her best friend out of love for the friend's husband, whom she married 14 months after the June 1996 slaying.  Public fears that she would escape the death penalty because she was white heightened pressure on the nation's president to go ahead with the execution.

Japan wraps its gallows in extreme secrecy, refusing to reveal execution dates - even to families of the condemned - until after sentences are carried out.  Japan hanged three people last year, all convicted murderers who died on the same November morning after years on death row.

Russia has not carried out an execution since 1996.  Two years ago, then President Boris Yeltsin granted clemency to all 716 inmates on death row.

France mothballed the guillotine when it abolished the death penalty in 1981.

Source: Associated Press 8 June 2001; photo credit Agence France-Presse from USA Today Wednesday 20 June 2001

Chinese Death Vans

by Geoff Manaugh

Mobile execution chambers are now on the road in China.  As a replacement for the firing squad, this is nomadic power, bringing the state - and lethal injections - to your doorstep.

"Makers of death vans," USA Today reports, "say they save money for poor localities that would otherwise have to pay to construct execution facilities in prisons or court buildings.  The vans ensure that prisoners sentenced to death can be executed locally, closer to communities where they broke the law."  It's the infrastructure of punishment detached from the limitations of geography.

On the other hand, "China's critics contend that the transition from firing squads to injections in death vans facilitates an illegal trade in prisoners' organs.  Injections leave the whole body intact and require participation of doctors.  Organs can 'be extracted in a speedier and more effective way than if the prisoner is shot,' says Mark Allison, East Asia researcher at Amnesty International in Hong Kong.  'We have gathered strong evidence suggesting the involvement of (Chinese) police, courts and hospitals in the organ trade.'"

To guarantee that each execution is "carried out legally," they are all "recorded on video and audio that is played live to local law enforcement authorities" - state-induced death as a form of avant-garde cinema.

As USA Today continues, punishment by death is not uncommon: "Sixty-eight different crimes - more than half non-violent offenses such as tax evasion and drug smuggling - are punishable by death in China.  That means the death vans are likely to keep rolling."

Perhaps leading to someone's future Phd: Urban Design and the Death Sentence.  Or a TV show: "Pimp My Death Van".

Source: 20 June 2006

Van Specifications

Cost: $37,500 - $75,000 depending on vehicle size
Length: 20 - 26 feet
Top speed: 65 - 80 mph (one wonders why the top speed matters...)

bulletExecution chamber: in the back, with blacked-out windows; seats beside the stretcher for a court doctor and guards; steriliser for injection equipment; wash basin
bulletObservation area: in the middle, with a glass window separating it from execution area; can accommodate six people; official-in-charge oversees the execution through monitors connected to the prisoner and gives instruction via walkie-talkie
bulletDriver area

Production to date: at least 40 vehicles, made by Jinguan and two other companies in Jiangsu and Shandong provinces

Source: 14 June 2006

Based on Amnesty International figures and population data, the per capita execution rate in China is about 7 times more than that of the US.  Also, it may be that China is under-reporting, if anything.  Amnesty lists the top 4 countries in terms of total executions as: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, US.  But if you compute capita, it's: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iran and China (the US drops to 7th place).

Beauty Products from the Skin of Executed Chinese Prisoners

by Ian Cobain and Adam Luck

A Chinese cosmetics company is using skin harvested from the corpses of executed convicts to develop beauty products for sale in Europe.  Agents for the firm have told would-be customers it is developing collagen for lip and wrinkle treatments from skin taken from prisoners after they have been shot.  The agents say some of the company's products have been exported to the UK, and that the use of skin from condemned convicts is "traditional" and nothing to "make such a big fuss about".  With European regulations to control cosmetic treatments such as collagen not expected for several years, doctors and politicians say the discovery highlights the dangers faced by the increasing number of Britons seeking to improve their looks.  Apart from the ethical concerns, there is also the potential risk of infection.

MPs on the Commons select health committee are to examine the regulatory system and may launch an investigation and question ministers about the need for immediate new controls.  "I am sure that the committee will want to look at this," said Kevin Barron, its Labour chairman.  "This is something everyone in society will be very concerned about."  Plastic surgeons are also concerned about the delay in introducing regulations to control the cosmetic treatments industry.  Norman Waterhouse, a former president of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, said: "I am surprised that we are taking the lead from the European commission, because this is bound to delay action on this important area which is increasingly a matter for concern.  It seems like a bit of a cop out to me."

It is unclear whether any of the "æsthetic fillers" such as collagen available in the UK or on the internet are supplied by the company, which cannot be identified for legal reasons.  It is also unclear whether collagen made from prisoners' skin is in the research stage or is in production.  However, the company has exported collagen products to the UK in the past.  An agent told customers it had also exported to the US and European countries, and that it was trying to develop fillers using tissue from aborted fœtuses.  When formally approached, the agent denied the company was using skin harvested from executed prisoners.  However, he had already admitted it was doing precisely this during a number of conversations with a researcher posing as a Hong Kong businessman.  (The Press Complaints Commission's code of practice permits subterfuge if there is no other means of investigating a matter of public interest.)  The agent told the researcher: "A lot of the research is still carried out in the traditional manner using skin from the executed prisoner and aborted fœtus."  This material, he said, was being bought from biotech companies based in the northern province of Heilongjiang, and was being developed elsewhere in China.  He suggested that the use of skin and other tissues harvested from executed prisoners was not uncommon.  "In China it is considered very normal and I was very shocked that western countries can make such a big fuss about this," he said.  Speaking from his office in northern China, he added: "The government has put some pressure on all the medical facilities to keep this type of work in low profile."  The agent said his company exported to the west via Hong Kong.  "We are still in the early days of selling these products, and clients from abroad are quite surprised that China can manufacture the same human collagen for less than 5% of what it costs in the west."  Skin from prisoners used to be even less expensive, he said.  "Nowadays there is a certain fee that has to be paid to the court."

The agent's admission comes after an inquiry into the cosmetic surgery industry in Britain, commissioned by the Department of Health, pointed to the need for new regulations controlling collagen treatments.  Sir Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer, has highlighted the inquiry's concerns about the use of cadavers for cosmetic treatments.  "Cosmetic procedures are a rapidly growing area of private health care," he said.  "We must ensure we properly protect patients' safety by improving the training and regulation."  The Department of Health has agreed to the inquiry's recommendations, but is waiting for the European commission to draw up proposals for laws governing cosmetic products.  It could be several years before this legislation takes force.  Meanwhile, cosmetic treatments, including those with with æsthetic fillers, are growing rapidly in popularity, with around 150,000 injections or implants administered each year in the UK.  Lip enhancement treatments are one of the most popular, costing an average of £170.

Some fillers are made from cattle or pig tissue, and others from humans.  The Department of Health believes that there may be a risk of transmission of blood-borne viruses and even vCJD from collagen containing human tissue.  Although there is as yet no evidence that this has happened, the inquiry found that some collagen injections had triggered inflammatory reactions causing permanent discomfort, scarring and disfigurement.  In their report, the inquiry team said that if there was a risk, "action should be taken to protect patient safety through regulation".  While new regulations are to be drawn up, the department is currently powerless to regulate most human-tissue fillers intended for injection or implant, as they occupy a legal grey area.  Most products are not governed by regulations controlling medical products, as they are not classified as medicines.  They also escape cosmetics regulations, which only apply to substances used on the surface of the skin and not those injected beneath it.  The Healthcare Commission is planning new regulations for cosmetic surgery clinics next year, but these will not control the substances used by plastic surgeons.

A number of plastic surgeons have said that they have been hearing rumours about the use of tissue harvested from executed prisoners for several years.  Peter Butler, a consultant plastic surgeon and government adviser, said there had been rumours that Chinese surgeons had performed hand transplants using hands from executed prisoners.  One transplant centre was believed to be adjacent to an execution ground.  "I can see the utility of it, as they have access and no ethical objection," he said.  "The main concern would be infective risk."  Andrew Lee of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, who has visited China to examine transplant techniques, said he had heard similar rumours.

Manufacturers of æsthetic fillers said they had seen Chinese collagen products on sale at trade fairs, but had not seen any labelled Chinese-made in the UK.  Dan Cohen, whose US-based company, Inamed, produces collagen products, said: "We have come across Chinese products in the market place.  But most products from China are being sold 'off-label' or are being imported illegally."

In China, authorities deny that prisoners' body parts are harvested without their consent.  However, there is some evidence to suggest it may be happening.  In June 2001, Wang Guoqi, a Chinese former military physician, told US congressmen he had worked at execution grounds helping surgeons to harvest the organs of more than 100 executed prisoners, without prior consent.  The surgeons used converted vans parked near the execution grounds to begin dissecting the bodies, he told the house international relations committee's human rights panel.  Skin was said to be highly valued for the treatment of burn victims, and Dr Wang said that in 1995 he skinned a shot convict's body while the man's heart was still beating.  Dr Wang, who was seeking asylum in the US, also alleged that corneas and other body tissue were removed for transplant, and said his hospital, the Tianjin paramilitary police general brigade hospital, sold body parts for profit.  Human rights activists in China have repeatedly claimed that organs have been harvested from the corpses of executed prisoners and sold to surgeons offering transplants to fee-paying foreigners.  Dr Wang's allegations infuriated the Chinese authorities, and in a rare move officials publicly denounced him as a liar.  The government said organs were transplanted from executed prisoners only if they and their family gave consent.

Although the exact number of people facing the death penalty in China is an official secret, Amnesty International believes around 3,400 were executed last year, with a further 6,000 on death row.

What is it?

Collagen is a major structural protein found in abundance in skin, bones, tendons and other connective tissue.  Matted sheets of collagen give skin its toughness and by winding into molecular "cables", it adds strength to tendons.

What is it used for?

Collagen injections are used in cosmetic surgery to plump up lips and flatten out wrinkles.  After botox, collagen injections are the second-most popular cosmetic operations in Britain.  Collagen does not have a permanent effect and several injections are often needed.

What else is it good for?

Collagen was being put to good use as far back as the stone age.  Neolithic cave dwellers around the Dead Sea are believed to have used it as a primitive form of glue some 8,000 years ago.  More recently, researchers have developed a form that can be poured or injected into wounds to seal them.

Where does it come from?

A number of sources.  Some companies extract it from cow skin and treat it to minimise the risk of allergic reactions or infection.  Others collect it from human donors or extract cells from the patient before growing the necessary amount in a laboratory.

Is it safe?

Collagen can cause allergic reactions if it has not been treated correctly, and there is a theoretical risk of disease being passed on.  A small amount of collagen is often injected into the skin a few weeks before treatment to test for possible allergic reactions.  Earlier this year, Sir Liam Donaldson warned that collagen injections could spread conditions such as hepatitis and variant CJD, the human form of mad cow disease.

Source: 13 September 2005 The Guardian

Chinese Army "Harvesting Body Parts"

China's military is harvesting organs from unwilling live prison inmates, mostly Falungong practitioners, for transplants on a large scale - including to foreign recipients- according to a study.  The report authors - Canada's former secretary of state for the Asia Pacific region David Kilgour and human rights lawyer David Matas - implicated dozens of hospitals and jails throughout China in July, after a 2-month investigation.  Chinese officials have denied those allegations.

Mr Matas and Mr Kilgour's second report includes interviews with organ recipients in 30 countries and Canadian hospital staff who cared for more than 100 patients who had undergone suspicious transplant surgeries in China.  "The involvement of the People's Liberation Army in these transplants is widespread," Mr Kilgour said at a press conference.

Like many civilian hospitals in rural China, military hospitals turned to selling organs to make up for government funding cuts in the 1980s, the report said.  But military personnel could operate with much more secrecy, it said.  "Recipients often tell us that even when they receive transplants at civilian hospitals, those conducting the operation are military personnel," the report said.  Hospitals in Canada's biggest cities - Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto - confirmed "a substantial number" of Canadians had travelled to China for dubious organ transplants, Mr Kilgour said.

"We're in the 3 digits - up over 100 (from Canada each year) - and the trend is accelerating," Mr Matas said.

To curb what they call a "disgusting form of evil", the pair asked pharmaceutical firms to stop selling organ anti-rejection drugs to China.  They also asked countries to post travel advisories warning about China's alleged organ harvest, asked states to cease offering follow-up care for patients who had dubious organ transplants in China and asked foreign doctors to cut ties with their Chinese counterparts suspected of such practices.  The authors said states should enact legislation to ban citizens from traveling to China for organ transplants from unwilling donors, although they admitted that such cases would be difficult to prosecute.

Source: from Agence France-Presse correspondents in Ottawa 1 February 2007

They want "...states to cease offering follow-up care for patients who had dubious organ transplants in China", huh?  In other words, sentence these recipients to death?  Then maybe their organs could be legally harvested and given to someone else?  Think this one through, guys...

For more articles on capital punishment, see also these pages found elsewhere in this section on prisons:

bulletDying Marv - For US$24 (NZ$56), batteries not included, American children, recommended age 13 and over, can experience the horrors of the death chamber in the role of executioner...
bulletMethods of Capital Punishment - How long is the interval of consciousness after the head is severed?  In France, in the days of the guillotine, some of the condemned were asked to blink their eyes if they were still conscious after the knife fell.  Reportedly, their heads blinked for up to 30 seconds after decapitation...
bulletAs Condemned Await Fate - Most are cooperative.  Gary Graham was not.  Graham's claims of innocence and an unfair trial became an issue in the presidential campaign of then-Governor George W Bush.  Corrections officers, working as an "extraction team," hit him with pepper spray, burning his eyes and lowering his defenses.  Less than a minute later, a tiedown team secured him to the gurney.  Immobilised, Graham seethed and waited to unleash a diatribe as witnesses filed into the two closet-sized viewing rooms...
bulletDeath Penalty and Race - Death penalty statistics shine an ugly spotlight on racial justice in the City of Brotherly Love.  Philadelphia's death row of 135 men and women is larger than that of 42 states - 90% of Philadelphia's death row are racial or ethnic minorities.  During one recent period in the mid 1990s, 40 of 41 defendants sent to death row by Philadelphia juries (97.6%) were black or Latino...
bulletExecutioner's Song - Even the most callow executioner winds up bearing a burden that belongs, originally, to those who order the executions in the first place, namely the residents of death penalty states.  That's why we hire him.  The victims' rights crowd crows that they would gladly pull the lever themselves, and it's true that every job opening in the capital punishment industry brings on a cascade of applications.  But the reality of the job, the weight of a society's outsourced vengeance, blood lust and guilt, breaks men in half...

I would also like to recommend the excellent book Newjack, by Ted Conover, which details what it's like to be a prison guard.  Some guards manage to hang on to their humanity but none leave the job without being profoundly affected.

For articles on white collar and petty crimes, injustice, capital punishment, race, executioners, freedom of the press, cheating, private prisons, punishment, retribution, prison labour, appeals, instant justice, electronic tags, lepers and second chances click the "Up" button below to take you to the Index for this Prisons section.

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