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Posted on Thursday, October 05, 2000 - 08:56 pm:   

Tipsy pirates go down singing
What did they do with this drunken sailor? Shot him, along with his murderous crew

by John Gittings Hong Kong

Sunday January 30, 2000

A gang of Chinese pirates have been sent to their deaths in a macabre parade, reeling with drink and singing Ricky Martin's 1998 World Cup theme song to show they were not afraid.

The 12 Chinese and one Indonesian were executed on Friday in the southern city of Shanwei after being convicted of a horrific hijacking in which they bludgeoned to death the entire crew of a Hong Kong-based cargo ship.

Before being put into open trucks outside the courthouse, they were allowed half an hour to meet relatives, with some food - and large quantities of rice wine.

Hong Kong Chinese journalists had, unusually, been allowed to cover the trial. They reported that the pirates emerged unsteadily into the sunlight. Some sang the 'Cup of Life' World Cup theme. Others cursed the Communist Party. 'We gave the men food and hard liquor to help take away the tension of being executed,' a police official told Hong Kong's South China Morning Post .

The men had their arms lashed behind their backs and their hands and feet were chained. Numbers were attached with sticky tape to their chests. Yang Jingtao, aged 25 and convicted of murder and robbery, was said by eyewitnesses to lead the singing with shouts of 'Go, go, go, olé, olé, olé.'

He then said sarcastically to reporters: 'I just want to thank the Communist Party's judicial system and my defending counsel for giving me a fair chance.'

The scene was reminiscent of execution parades in pre-Communist China when criminals on their way to execution were expected to sing Chinese opera. If they expressed resolve to go fearlessly to their deaths, they would be applauded by the crowd. Those who could not sing properly were booed.

Chinese executions are no longer conducted in public, but those facing death are still taken through the streets in open trucks. They are not normally permitted alcohol and are often manhandled by their guards. Executions are more frequent in the run-up to the Chinese new year as the authorities clear the decks of convicted criminals. The Year of the Dragon begins next Saturday.

This execution was delayed because the conviction of a foreigner - Indonesian Wei Suoni - required endorsement by the Supreme Court in Beijing. Suoni smoked a last cigarette as he sat impassively in the truck.

The gang boarded the Changsheng cargo ship on 16 November, posing as anti-smuggling police. They blindfolded the crew then beat them to death before throwing them in the sea. Their conviction last month was greeted with relief by Asian ship owners who have been alarmed by previous cases in which Chinese courts let suspected hijackers go free.

The Supreme Court said in its judgment that China was determined to take stern action against ship pirates.

China regards statistics on executions as a state secret and cases are reported individually, often only in the local press.

Amnesty International compiled information on 2,701 death sentences in 1998 and 1,769 confirmed executions. Amnesty believes the real figure was much higher.

Chinese authorities say the number of executions should decrease following a 1997 revision of the Criminal Law, but the lack of information makes this impossible to verify.

The gang were paraded in court on Friday to hear the judge confirm the verdicts and announce that punishment must be 'executed without delay'. They proceeded immediately to their drinking session in the courtroom before being taken away.

Executions are carried out in China in the open air, usually on waste ground in city suburbs. Those found guilty are shot, either by a firing squad or at close range with a bullet to the head.

The 13 were convicted in a well-publicised trial which heard that the hijacked ship had been sold to an unknown foreign buyer for about £190,000 which was divided between the gang.

They had previously robbed two ships in 1998 without committing any murders.

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