A Report from the Ground Zero of China’s AIDS Crisis

The international community has praised the Chinese government for its recent change of heart toward the AIDS crisis. Whereas central authorities considered the epidemic a foreign issue just five years ago, Chinese leaders today acknowledge the severity of the problem and are participating in international programs aimed at the prevention and treatment of the disease. Journalist Pierre Haski who has spent time in the most affected Henan province, however, argues that the reality on the ground belies the government's lofty words. The miserable conditions in Henan, where an infamous blood-trade scandal in the early 1990s left thousands of peasants infected, warrant special attention. In contrast to the positive changes seen in Beijing, the government of Henan continues to downplay the extent of the disease and resist outside assistance. Inadequate measures, such as the distribution of pharmaceuticals with notable side effects, have been rejected by patients – leaving many without sufficient treatment and social support. "Until [the central government] brings assistance and justice to the victims of the Henan blood scandal," notes Haski, "it's too early to cheer Beijing's change of heart on HIV/AIDS." – YaleGlobal

A Report from the Ground Zero of China’s AIDS Crisis

Despite positive publicity, official Chinese help for the infected remains inadequate while foreign assistance is refused

Lone vigil: A child sits by a dying mother in Henan, the ground zero of China's HIV/AIDS crisis

BEIJING: In a recent meeting with UN officials, China's Premier Wen Jiabao announced that the Chinese government is "determined and capable of curbing the spread of the disease (HIV/AIDS); to ensure the people live a healthy and peaceful life." China has indeed stopped playing the ostrich with head in the sand, but in the region where HIV/AIDS exploded, the old habit of secrecy still rules. With the government drastically underreporting the extent of the disease and resisting foreign help to fight it, thousands of infected Chinese are being left to further spread the virus and die unattended. Despite the public revelations of mass infections through contaminated blood, Henan residents continue to practice unprotected sex and send migrant workers to China's booming coastal region.

Only five years ago, AIDS was nowhere on the country's leadership radar screen. On World AIDS Day, December 1, 2000, the government treated reports about the epidemic as "foreign news." Nowadays, HIV/AIDS-related news appears regularly in newspapers and television. In a highly symbolic move – in China, the impulse still has to come from the top – the president and prime minister publicly shook hands with AIDS patients. Having made important commitments to address the AIDS crisis, the Chinese government now participates in international programs promoting both prevention and treatment of the virus.

The international community praised the Chinese government for its change of heart toward a world epidemic that is still far from contained, particularly in Asia. But as is often the case in China, there is a big gap between the central government's stated intentions and some of its provinces' real actions. HIV/AIDS provides a tragic example of this well-known characteristic of Chinese politics.

The central province of Henan, a poor, rural, and densely-populated region of 100 million, has been hardest hit by the virus – the result of an infamous blood-trade scandal in the early 1990s. Authorities encouraged Henan's poor peasants to sell their blood to collecting stations for industrial use. Residents still remember the slogan, "It is glorious to sell your blood." Also, the 40 yuan ( US$4.80 ) compensation was a welcome relief for low-income families. Tragically, no precautions were taken, and tens – probably hundreds – of thousands of these peasants, who had never heard of AIDS, were infected with the deadly virus.

The country's political system made a bad situation worse. My recent research shows that the authorities at local, provincial, and central levels knew everything by 1995: They stopped the blood trade, but did nothing about the mass contamination. Between 1995 and 2003, people living with HIV/AIDS were not informed of their infection, nor of the risks of contamination. Mothers gave birth to HIV-positive babies; existing treatments could easily prevented these transmissions. Meanwhile, adults – particularly migrant workers in the industrial zones of eastern China – continued to have sexual relations without any precautions.

When, as a reporter, I first visited the "AIDS villages" in 2001, people were totally ignorant of the plague that was striking their helpless communities: The disease had no name (They called it "the fever."), and the first peasant I interviewed asked if it was contagious. Visitors could meet dying patients who had received no treatment for lack of money, orphans taken care of by villagers' solidarity, and peasants with scars on their arms for selling their blood hundreds of times in the early 1990s – and wondering if they would be next to become ill.

When the first cases of illness, the first mysterious deaths, appeared, some Chinese doctors realized, often by chance, that something had gone awfully wrong. They were harassed and pressured to keep silent. The first Chinese journalist who reported the first cases of "mysterious illness" lost his job and became a kind of "political refugee" in the capital, Beijing. Things have changed since 2003, and these courageous doctors once considered subversives, like Dr. Gao Yaojie, a retired gynecologist from Zhengzhou, Henan's capital, have been rehabilitated in Beijing. Newspapers in Beijing and Guangzhou have been at times outspoken about the scandal.

But in Henan itself, what has changed since 2003? Unfortunately, not enough. Even the number of contaminated peasants remains unknown, and the ministry of health in Beijing laughs at Henan's official tally of 22,000. Dr. Zheng Ke, one of the Chinese doctors with the best field experience in Henan, puts the estimate at 300,000; others speculate the figure is closer to 500,000 or even a million. No one knows for sure.

Officially, the government has started distributing free antiretrovirals, the treatment that can stop the progress of the disease. The leadership has granted free education for children of AIDS patients and help for their communities. In reality, these treatments have been inadequate; a majority of patients rejected them because of side effects, while others have been trying all kinds of medicine, including experiments from Chinese army research centers. Many have opted against treatment altogether – and anxiously wait for their death. Worse, some were abandoned, like one man I met who was clearly developing the disease and who had been left waiting for a month for the results of his blood test. In dozens of interviews last year, I did not meet a single patient who was correctly treated.

This medical chaos would be enough to justify outside assistance. But Henan authorities are adamant not to allow any outside presence. When I travelled to the "AIDS villages" last year, I had to arrive at midnight and leave before daybreak to avoid the militias formed to stop journalists and non-government organizations, both Chinese and foreign, from visiting AIDS patients. International NGO's like Doctors Without Borders, have seen their offers of assistance rejected by Henan and have opened in other provinces – Hunan and Guangxi – AIDS clinics which, in partnership with local governments, bring their valuable experience in fighting the epidemic in other countries. Chinese NGO's trying to organize orphanages for the thousands of Henan children who have already lost their parents have been violently chased from the province and their institutions closed. I was a witness last year to one such incident in the town of Shengqiu, and saw the children's panic as police surrounded the building in an aggressive way.

This leaves tens of thousands of Henan peasants without adequate treatment, without any social support, and having to face the hostility of authorities who fear retribution for their role in the contamination process a decade ago. At the beginning of this year, China organized a massive campaign of solidarity for the victims of the Southeast Asian tsunami and raised more money than many developed nations. This, as many victims of official neglect, political cover-up, and medical chaos are waiting in Henan to see the central government put its positive attitude in action before it's far too late. Until it brings assistance and justice to the victims of the Henan blood scandal, it's too early to cheer Beijing's change of heart on HIV/AIDS.

Pierre Haski is a Beijing-based correspondent of the French daily "Liberation, " author of "Le Sang de la Chine" (China's blood trade), ed. Grasset, Paris, 2005, and of "The Diary of Ma Yan," ed. Harper Collins, 2005.

Professor aids China’s nascent anti-smoking efforts

Professor aids China’s nascent anti-smoking efforts

L.A. Cicero Assistant Professor Matthew Kohrman with some of the cigarette packages he collected in southern China

Assistant Professor Matthew Kohrman with some of the cigarette packages he collected in southern China. The medical anthropologist has applied his academic expertise in China to help address its smoking epidemic.

Kohrman and a group of colleagues published the first smoking-cessation manual in China based on anthropological research.

In late 2005, Kohrman and a group of colleagues published the first smoking-cessation manual in China based on anthropological research.

Tobacco is big business in China, which is home to roughly 360 million smokers—more than in any other country. It’s also a leading cause of death. This year, smoking-related diseases will take an estimated 1 million lives in China and be responsible for one of every eight deaths among Chinese men, said Matthew Kohrman, assistant professor of cultural and social anthropology. By 2050, if current trends continue, the figure is expected to jump to one-in-three male deaths.

In China's traditionally patriarchal society, smoking is an activity almost exclusive to men, Kohrman said. Seventy percent of men over 15 years old smoke, compared to less than 4 percent of women. Smoking is regarded as socially unacceptable for women, although slight upticks have been recorded among young female urbanites who regard it as cool and glamorous. Among men, the habit is equated with success, strength and sociability. Alongside the country's emerging market economy, cigarettes have been used to facilitate and seal business deals. A common Chinese expression today goes, "Men who don't smoke will work in vain to ascend to the top of the world."

Organizing a campaign to stem China's looming health crisis is further complicated because tobacco has been the single-largest contributor to its national tax system in recent years, Kohrman said. The country grows one-third of the world's tobacco crop and manufactures one-third of its cigarettes. Although oil and petroleum have gained in importance, tobacco remains a significant contributor to the economy, particularly in southwestern Yunnan province—China's "tobacco kingdom"—where 70 percent of taxes come from cigarette production.

In comparison to efforts to stem AIDS, which has received a lot of media attention, government support and significant international funding to establish disease-prevention organizations, tobacco control languishes. According to the United Nations, fewer than 1 million people have AIDS in China, but more than this number will die this year from smoking-related diseases. "Tobacco is much more sensitive because it's such a big part of the economy," Kohrman said. "And even with the epidemiological tidal wave that is about to hit the country, it's not seen as that pressing."

Despite such obstacles, Kohrman has witnessed some positive developments as China vies to be accepted as a modern state. Last October, China ratified the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, an international treaty aiming to reduce global demand for tobacco products by encouraging countries to adopt anti-smoking measures. In recognition of that milestone, China again will mark "World No Tobacco Day" on May 31.

Kohrman, a medical anthropologist interested in "biopolitics"—how health and the human body relates to the formation of political life—has applied his academic expertise in China to help address the nation's smoking epidemic. Kohrman is the author of Bodies of Difference: Experiences of Disability and Institutional Advocacy in the Making of Modern China, a book examining disability in relation to modernity and state building. In late 2005, Kohrman and a group of Chinese colleagues published Striding Along the Road to Health: A Handbook for Giving Up Smoking. It is the first smoking-cessation manual ever published in China based on anthropological research.

"This is a health project, but deeply informed by my ethnographic work," Kohrman said. "I feel strongly that while doing ethnographic study, anthropologists can't just sit back and be flies on the wall and write papers about suffering. They have to do things to mitigate that suffering." Kohrman said his anthropological research benefits from his policy work and vice versa. "As a result of this project, I have credibility throughout the Chinese public health system," he said. Leading up to this year's "World No Tobacco Day," the manual was featured on Chinese state television in a national broadcast on May 29.

The slim paperback is based on research supported by grants Kohrman received from the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the American Cancer Society. Developed in collaboration with the China Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the School of Public Health in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province, the self-help manual offers a set of behavioral and conceptual tools attuned to Chinese social mores.

"There's nothing like this," Kohrman said. "There are other smoking-cessation manuals, but they are usually direct translations of foreign texts that make no effort at developing something more related to every day social and economic life."

In a trial run, 3,000 copies have been published and are being circulated nationwide. This fall, Kohrman will begin a pilot test in Kunming involving 400 smokers who want to quit. Half of the group will receive the book and will be monitored to see if the book helps them kick the habit.

The colorful handbook is loosely based on an English-language manual that was revised and adapted according to input from Chinese focus groups and tobacco control experts. A Kunming advertising agency created hip graphics, many in the style of Japanese anime, geared to the interests of the manual's largely male target audience. The book is endorsed by Hong Zhaoguang, China's leading popular health guru, and other prominent Chinese professionals. Colorful stickers printed with sayings such as "Smoking can cause bad breath" and "No Smoking" are included in the book. Actor Jackie Chan, an ardent anti-smoking advocate, is featured on the back cover crushing a giant cigarette over his knee. In an unusual collaboration between mainland China and Taiwan, Kohrman worked with a Taipei health foundation to secure copyright permission to use Chan's image.

Kohrman said the book is different from its predecessors because instead of merely listing tobacco-related health problems, it contextualizes the risks within broader issues of concern to society. "There are anxieties about rising health-care costs and the decline in health-care financing," Kohrman said. "Most families are not insured, the old state is gone and people have to bear the burden of health-care costs." For example, a 30-year-old smoker might already be struggling under the burden of covering health-care costs for his parents. "One can say, 'Hey, you're 30 right now and you can smoke for another 20 years, but then you'll get a disease and it will be very expensive,'" Kohrman said. "You can speak to issues they're already attentive to."

The manual also discusses how cigarette smoking incubates disease, Kohrman said. "Alas, people are much more attentive to communicable diseases; they really worry about pathogens moving from person to person." It also tries to dispel misconceptions, such as if someone has smoked for a number of years and then quits, his body experiences changes that could actually induce disease.

Kohrman knows the anti-smoking lobby faces a tough battle ahead. Tobacco replacement therapy and smoking-cessation clinics are in short supply across China. More people are quitting, he said, but then fall back: "There's a very fraught sense of self forming around quitting." Men think, "I'm a manly man because I can quit," and "I am weak and lacking willpower" if they fail, Kohrman said. "So there's a lot of self-loathing that's starting to occur."

The 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing is expected to boost the anti-smoking lobby, Kohrman said. "There's been a lot of ongoing struggles within China's polity about creating the healthy modern individual," he said. The late Communist leader Mao Zedong, a heavy smoker, wrote essays in the 1920s about the importance of the healthy, athletic individual.

"The spirit of strong physicality has grown over time, and the Olympics is the most recent iteration of that: the importance of being internationally recognized as a strong, healthy state made up of strong, healthy individuals," Kohrman said. "This is the conflation of health and modernity. It's a foundational piece of nationalism."

Aids in China...

Gamma Aids village, Henan Province, China
Gamma Aids village, Henan Province, China
China Aids activists 'harassed'
By Rupert Wingfield-Hayes
BBC News, Beijing

Two people with Aids from China's central Henan province
People with Aids in China still feel stigmatised
An international human rights group has accused China of continuing to harass Aids activists working in the country.

The report, by Human Rights Watch, says people working with Aids patients face intimidation and even imprisonment.

The report comes days after China published a new law to protect people with Aids from discrimination.

China's communist government may be changing its attitude to those with Aids, but it appears it is still deeply hostile to those trying to help.

According to Human Rights Watch, Aids activists working in badly hit areas of central China are regularly intimidated and have even been beaten up by thugs hired by the local government.

The report says local governments in central China fear publicity about their Aids problem will ruin the investment environment.

It also accuses the Chinese government of continuing to censor information that could help prevent high risk groups from catching the HIV virus.

It says websites that try to promote safe sex and educate intravenous drug users are regularly shut down.

China is thought to have about one million people with HIV.

The largest concentration is in the centre of the country, where tens of thousands of poor farmers contracted HIV through government-run blood buying schemes in the 1990s.

The United Nations says that without immediate action to educate the public, China could have 10 million people with HIV by the end of the decade.

Address both the spread and stigma of HIV, says Primate

by Rachel Harden

China AIDS day
World AIDS Day: two nuns mark the international day at an event in Shenyang, China

THE Archbishop of Canterbury has urged Christians to be at the forefront of the fight against HIV/AIDS. In a statement released for World AIDS Day (last Friday), Dr Williams said that Christians were compelled by God’s self-offering in the face of suffering to do what they could to treat the sick and to educate themselves and others so as to avoid further spread of the infection.

“This pandemic has reached alarming proportions, affecting and infecting many who have not the knowledge or the personal autonomy to avoid transmission. It is now women and young people who face the highest rates of infection; the most vulnerable who bear the heaviest burden,” Dr Williams said. Last year, an estimated 4.1 million people became infected, and an estimated 2.8 million people died of AIDS-related illnesses. “No Church has found it easy to confront the realities of this HIV crisis. We have struggled to balance the moral tensions inherent in preventing disease whilst maintaining sexual discipline,” Dr Williams said. The disease was not stopped “by our best intentions or even by marriage”: “each person must take responsibility for knowing their HIV status and making sure that others who may be affected also know their status.” The Archbishop also said that assuming that HIV was something that infected someone else was the first step towards allowing it to confer a stigma. He praised church leaders who had “courageously brought their HIV-positive status to the attention of their communities”. He also called on the Global Fund and other donors to recognise “the enormous contribution that could be made in fighting this pandemic with our ecumenical partners”. Dr Williams highlighted the AIDS conference, to be held in South Africa next March, organised by the Anglican Communion. On Sunday, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, defended his Church’s position on the use of condoms. Referring to comments made by the Prime Minister on Friday that the Roman Catholic Church should “face up to reality” and drop its ban in order to fight AIDS effectively, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said that the money should be used to provide more drugs and medicines. “I speak to bishops in Africa, and they told me that their dioceses are flooded with condoms, and they say it has meant more promiscuity and more AIDS,” the Cardinal said on Andrew Marr’s BBC1 programme Sunday AM. But he said that Pope Benedict XVI had ordered a review of the Church’s position on using a condom within marriage where one of the partners was infected.

The Archbishop of Kenya, the Most Revd Benjamin Nzimbi, marked World AIDS Day by calling for an end to the indiscriminate distribution of condoms. He said that providing them without thought contradicted Christian principles of self-control.

The fight for labour rights in China’s cities

The fight for labour rights in China’s cities

Huang Qingnan lies injured after he was attacked with a machete for helping workers fight for their rights

Brutal oppression of workers underlies China’s economic boom, writes Tim Shepherd

In mid-afternoon on 20 November labour activist Huang Qingnan was chatting to a friend outside his local shop in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, one of the epicentres of China’s spectacular economic growth.

Out of the blue, two young men approached, one armed with a machete. In the ensuing melée, Huang was slashed so badly that doctors expect him to lose the use of his leg.

Huang runs a centre which dispenses services to workers who are in dispute with their employers. His legal advice, offered on a “pay what you can” basis, to workers chasing unpaid wages or compensation for work injuries has made him powerful enemies among factory bosses and various “interested parties”.

The labour arm of China’s growing civil rights movement is known simply as “wei quan” or, literally, “to uphold rights”. People involved in it face a rising level of attacks.

On 13 November another labour rights activist, Li Jinxin, was attacked by thugs and remains in hospital as a result. The violence haunts and underpins the Chinese “economic miracle”, which has produced one of the widest gaps between rich and poor in the world.

Li helped out at a law firm specialising in labour rights work. He was kidnapped and both his legs were broken in a vicious and prolonged beating after meeting a “client” outside the offices.

China’s rise as the “world’s factory” has been largely based on the exploitation of over 100 million internal migrants leaving poor rural areas to work in the factories and building sites of prosperous East China.


Their residential status in the cities is similar to Germany’s “guest workers”. They are only allowed to stay in urban areas while they are in work.

If a rural migrant is picked up by the police without the relevant papers he or she is transported home – usually via a 15-day spell in detention. It’s an arrangement that the bosses have found conducive to keeping wages low and workers on the defensive.

Huang, Li and other activists have been concentrating on publicising the contents of the new Labour Contract Law that will come into force on 1 January next year. One of its positive features is that it will make it more difficult for employers to dismiss workers.

The law was passed despite fierce and sustained opposition from multinationals led by the American Chamber of Commerce, who threatened capital flight.

A compromise draft was eventually approved by the National People’s Congress – China’s non-elected parliament – with the bosses reassured by the certainty that implementation will be lax, not least because China’s only legal trade union is constitutionally and legally bound to uphold the leadership of the Communist Party of China.

While this link gives the organisation considerable leverage in law drafting, the union has barely any influence on the shop floor. Local government officials frequently find common interest with capitalists and ensure that enterprise-level trade unions are run by management or their stooges.

The rare instances of union officials speaking out on behalf of workers usually leads to their being sacked or transferred. Workers who organise outside the traditional union structures face arrest and imprisonment.

Although there is no protection of the right to strike in China and freedom of association is banned, there has been a marked increase in strike activity, as workers have made good use of recent labour shortages and a growing awareness of workers’ rights to demand a living wage paid on time.

Independent unions are banned, but workers often form hometown associations that are sometimes capable of organising strikes. Occasions where these associations unite in strike action are increasing.


Since 2004, the Shenzhen government has twice been forced to raise the minimum wage to calm the militant atmosphere. Workers are also more likely to take employers to court and this has resulted in some important victories.

The latest attacks on labour activists are part of what appears to be a generalised effort by the rich and powerful to ensure that their profits are not threatened.

It is only a matter of time before an attack ends in a fatality. Activists frequently receive phone calls from anonymous thugs with the same message: “Stop helping workers to protect their rights, or we’ll chop you to death.”

Meanwhile Huang Qingnan remains in hospital facing medical fees of at least £10,000. Unions and labour organisations have arranged a solidarity fund.

Government In Burma Similar To Butcher Government Holding 2008 Olympics

Government In Burma Similar To Butcher Government Holding 2008 Olympics

Some Buddhist Monks in Burma have been killed and others are being sent to remote prisons for taking part in democracy protests.

This is reminiscent of the brutal crushing of democracy protests in China’s Tiananmen Square in 1989.

China, like Nazi Germany in 1936 and Soviet Russia in 1980, was rewarded for this behavior by being selected to host the Summer Olympics.

In Burma, bloggers have risked their lives to get this story out.

Statement on Tibet from Archbishop Desmond Tutu on Behalf of The Elders

Statement on Tibet from Archbishop Desmond Tutu on Behalf of The Elders

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The Washington, DC-based Radio Free Asia has compiled vivid eyewitness testimonies of the protests and riots that have swept across the Tibetan plateau in recent weeks, see: http://www.rfa.org/english/news/politics/2008/03/15/tibet_interviews/ "In the Tseko area of Amdo, the monks are continuing peaceful protests as of March 20. About 2,000 Tibetans, both monk and laypersons, are involved ..

Seven Questions: What Tibetans Want

The most vigorous Tibetan protests in decades have been crushed by Chinese soldiers and police. Tibet expert Robert Barnett explains why the most significant action is taking place outside Lhasa and what we can expect the Chinese to do next. Foreign Policy: What does the average Tibetan want? Is it independence, or a greater share of Tibet's modernization and economic growth, which has bee..

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On March 28, a group of 30 monks in Tibet's most sacred temple and place of pilgrimage, the Jokhang, spoke out to foreign press who were on an official tour of Lhasa orchestrated by Beijing. Images of the monks speaking directly to the journalists about the crackdown in Tibet's capital and the "lies" of the Communist Party were captured on film by the press and broadcast all ov..

Speaker Pelosi introduces resolution on Tibet

Speaker Pelosi, with the members of a bipartisan congressional delegation that met on March 21 in Dharamsala with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, introduced House Resolution 1077 on April 3 evening which calls on China to cease the crackdown, release protestors, provide unfettered access to journalists and independent international monitors to Tibet, and engage in a results-based dialogue with the Da..

Turning point for Tibet

Below is the complete article written by Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari, the Dalai Lama's Special Envoy, followed by the version edited due to space constraints which appeared in the International Herald Tribune on April 3, 2008. In the last few weeks we have witnessed an uprising against the Chinese authorities' repressive policies on the Tibetan plateau, the likes of which we have not seen in ..

ICT-Germany receives major funding from RTL-television - 919,863 Euro for Tibetan refugee children

'Particularly in these days of renewed violence against the Tibetan people, the over nine hundred thousand Euros raised in the RTL Telethon 2007 has been more important than ever before to pay for the expansion of a Tibetan Children's village for Tibetan refugees children', explain RTL charity director Wolfram Kons and project mentor, German actor Hannes Jaenicke. The expansion o..

Eight Tibetans killed in Kardze: new phase in protests in Tibet

At least eight Tibetans were killed yesterday in eastern Tibet after armed police fired on a crowd of several hundred monks and laypeople after an incident in which monks were detained after they objected to an intensified 'patriotic education' campaign, including photographs of the Dalai Lama being thrown to the ground, according to reliable sources. State media confirmed the incident t..

International Campaign for Tibet calls on Dutch Olympic Committee to support Olympic Torch re-routing

In advance of meetings next week between the Executive International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Association of National Olympic Committees in Beijing, the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) in Amsterdam has personally delivered a letter to the Netherlands National Olympic Committee (NOC), expressing ICT�s deep concern at the security risks and the risks to civilians of unrest related to t..

Straight Talk Makes Headway in HIV and AIDS

Straight Talk Makes Headway in HIV and AIDS

Volunteers from Colourful Sky hand out condoms and AIDS prevention pamphletsKUNMING, China - “I must have been the only fully dressed man to ever hang out in a gay sauna,” recalls Wang Ming, laughing. “No wonder everyone stared at me.”

Looking back at what he has been through since 2002, Wang can only laugh as he recalls the challenges he faced as a timid heterosexual entering what to him was the baffling world of gay men.

To break the ice, the bespectacled young man from the Yunnan provincial health education institute began playing chess at the sauna, handing out pamphlets and condoms to curious onlookers during breaks.

When the China-UK HIV/AIDS Prevention and Care Project gave support to the health institute in 2002 to start intervention work in the homosexual community of Kunming, Wang did not know much about gay lifestyles.

He struggled to find even a single member of this somewhat invisible community here in the capital of Yunnan province in south-western China. Then the China-UK AIDS project office hosted an AIDS conference in Kunming in June 2002, inviting Professor Zhang Beichuan as speaker. As a pioneer in AIDS intervention work, Zhang invited readers of his national newsletter to participate in the conference. Not many came to the conference in the daytime, but many more sneaked into the hotel at night to collar Zhang.

In the end, 14 brave souls pledged to cooperate with Wang as volunteers for a fledgling project called ‘Colourful Sky’. They included Li Jinyong, who later became the team manager. Li and Wang joined forces to improve awareness in the homosexual community, and help it and government health officials reach out to each other.

At first, the sauna’s owner was not too happy to see the team. He feared that introducing use of condoms would draw unwanted attention from the police make his business suffer. But the owner’s worries subsided when in March 2004, the provincial government itself required that condoms be made available at all hotels and entertainment venues.

Colourful Sky has also been successful in installing AIDS-related billboards inside Kunming’s main gay bar, winning the owner’s permission after hard negotiations. The owner even agreed to have AIDS-themed gatherings in the venue, inserting AIDS prevention tips in the night show quiz. The winners get prizes such as condoms and lubricants.

Cooperation between Wang’s official institute and gay volunteers have not always been smooth, but joint efforts do pay off for all sides. The provincial health institute, for instance, coordinated a face-to-face meeting of the gay community and police, in which they discussed the prevalent problem of gay people being blackmailed. Police promised to do their best to respect a gay person’s right to privacy -- while also investigating the crime.

Since those early days, more and more have joined the group of volunteers, organising community events that can attract more than 200 members from all over the city as well as nearby counties. Local regulations require that any gathering of more than 100 people must have police permission, but the official status of Wang’s institute has convinced police to turn a blind eye.

In 2005, Colourful Sky’s activity centre was born, with 150,000 yuan (18,750 U.S. dollars) coming from the International AIDS Alliance. At the downtown drop-in centre, visitors leaf through newspapers and magazines, play ping pong, watch videos, and meet new friends.

A Personal Voyage

The centre is often short of hands. Thirty-year-old Qiu Feng, one of its four full-time employees, has his hands full organising events, handling media relations, editing the newsletter and helping manage volunteers’ work in promoting safer sex in gay hangouts during weekends.

“It was a car accident in 2003 that made me rethink my life,” he says, explaining how he joined Colourful Sky. He quit his east-coast job in 2004 and headed west to Yunnan, the province where many urban Chinese youth traditionally seek spiritual solace. In Qiu’s case, he says he did not know what exactly he was looking for, but was watching out for something that might move him. Another reason, he now admits, was that a strange place always sounds safer. For most of his life, Qiu had hidden his sexuality, burying what he calls “a sense of great shame”.

He first learned of Colourful Sky from an advertisement on the Internet recruiting volunteers for the centre. Despite the social work he had done previously, Qiu had never realised that there were volunteers whose sole job was to reach out to gay people. By volunteering for a gay organisation, Qiu feared that others might guess his true orientation, but nevertheless registered in August 2005. Within half a month, he was a full-time employee.

One day in October 2005, a man called Colourful Sky in a state of panic, on the verge of suicide. The hotline caller told Qiu he had had unprotected sex and was now noticing AIDS-like symptoms. During a marathon series of phone and Internet conversations over the following days, Qiu tried to convince the caller to take a blood test. “It’s hard enough to be gay in this society,” says Qiu. “Let alone be a gay person with AIDS.”

Finally, the caller agreed to take the test, on condition of anonymity. Qiu volunteered to check the results. “When the test came up negative,” he says, “I don’t know who was happier or more relieved -- him or me.”

An Unexpected Side Effect

AIDS, like homosexuality, remains taboo in certain regions of China’s mainland. But as the province with the fastest spread of the pandemic in the country, Yunnan has also been the fastest to come to terms with the issues it raises. Qiu and his colleagues now join weekly training sessions, tailored to grassroots communities, organised by the provincial Red Cross. Topics range from interpersonal skills to proposal writing.

In the beginning, some participants did feel awkward and some were even upset over mixing with homosexuals, drug users, sex workers and HIV-positive people all in one room, to discuss what they had just been taught.

But familiarity has grown during the weekly meetings, so that the more regular attendees now tease one another like old friends. At a recent session, says Qiu, everyone got involved in a role-play game called ‘Wildfire’, designed to illustrate the impact of the pandemic. A drug user and sex worker got the short straws: they had to act out the role of persons living with HIV. In their reflections right after the game, says Qiu, both actors broke down in tears. It was only a game, but for a moment both had put their feet in the shoes of persons with HIV, and it was a valuable lesson about discrimination for all involved.

More than 20 grassroots community groups like Colourful Sky have sprung up in Yunnan, mainly through the support of the China-UK HIV/AIDS Prevention and Care Project.

The latest estimates by the United Nations and the Chinese government says China has some 650,000 cases of HIV, with new infections rising to 70,000 in 2005. But while HIV and AIDS takes deeper root, the pandemic has also had a most unexpected side effect in China – it has given voice to otherwise silent groups, as society rethink attitudes and age-old prejudices.

Governments, as well as the rest of society, have found that they have no choice but to listen. In March 2004, Colourful Sky co-founders Wang and Li were invited to talk on a provincial radio phone-in programme, where they openly discussed not only HIV and AIDS prevention but homosexuality and the little-known gay community life in Kunming.

Following the show, letters of protest immediately landed on the table of the programme producers. Seven more shows followed.

China's Anti-Gay Crackdown

China's Anti-Gay Crackdown
The wave of repression and intimidation of human rights activists and dissidents in China in advance of the Beijing Olympics has also targeted homosexuals, according to China's best-known gay and AIDS activist.Wan is not just anybody. A former official of China's Ministry of Public Health, he was fired in 1994 for his participation in AIDS information and prevention campaigns and for his support of full equal rights for homosexuals.

After being purged from the ministry, Wan founded the AIDS-fighting Aizhixing Action Project (the Chinese characters for "Aizhixing" represent love, knowledge, and action, and are a play on the Chinese word for AIDS). The association also works for freedom of expression on the Internet and is active on behalf of LGBT rights.

Hu Jia, the former executive director of Aizhixing and a long-time close collaborator of Wan who is also a noted human rights activist, was sent to prison for three and a half years on April 3 for "incitement of subversion" because of online articles he'd written and interviews he'd given to the foreign press.

In 2002, Wan was kidnapped by the authorities and then arrested for having disseminated an internal government report on the contaminated blood scandal in China, in which some estimates say as many as a million people were infected with HIV through transfusions in 23 of China's 30 provinces. Wan was freed after a month in prison following a worldwide campaign for his liberation that received enormous publicity.

In 2006, Wan was again arrested for having accused the Chinese government of "falling asleep" in the face of the mushrooming AIDS crisis. An international AIDS conference he organized in China for that time was canceled on the government's order.

Wan's activism on AIDS and human rights has been recognized with an award from Human Rights Watch.

In his email about the new anti-gay crackdown, Wan detailed several of the police raids. They began on March 9 when police invaded Destination, Beijing's most popular gay nightspot. Police pretended the nightclub was "over-crowded" and ordered it closed, and it remained shuttered for several days.

According to a well-informed foreigner residing in Beijing who spoke by telephone to this reporter on condition of anonymity, before proceeding to muscular interrogations of Destination's Chinese clients the police evacuated all non-Asians from the nightclub, to prevent any diplomat or other foreigner from witnessing the manner in which the police conducted their investigation.

On March 17, police and armed officers of the Bureau of Public Security, which is in charge of organizing the Olympics for the government, descended on Dongdan Park in the East District of Beijing, a well-known gay meeting place and cruising spot. According to Wan, police arrested all the gay people found in the park and took them to the police commissariat located there.

"The 40 people taken away by the police were all requested to show their ID, and their details were checked on the computer," Wan wrote. "They were all requested to write their name on a white paper, and hold the paper with their names before their chest to be photographed. Some people refused to be photographed and [were] released without being photographed. Some others, as a result of refusing to be photographed, and because their details were not found in the computer records, were taken to another police station for further interrogation.

"A gay volunteer of Aizhixing Institute was taken to the police station because police said that his name was not found in the computer records, and released after the lawyer of Aizhixing showed up at the police station. When the individuals were taken away, the police reported that a person was killed inside the park a day before, and everyone had to cooperate in the investigation. But after being walked to the police station, the individuals were not asked any question related to a criminal case."

Wan went on to write, "In the following days, many people in the park were asked to show their ID. Every evening after 7, a police car drove into the park to inspect the surroundings. For a small imprudence, people would be taken away by the police. Later in the evening, the police would clear out the park. In the afternoon of 22 March, 2 young people were taken away by police officers as soon as they walked into the park."

On March 20, a similar raid was carried out against Oasis, the most popular gay bathhouse in Beijing. There, according to Wan, "More than 70 people, including all the members of staff and clients were taken away. After more than 30 hours, in the early morning of 22 March, the clients of the house were released. But the members of staff were kept detained. In the early morning of 21 March, the police visited another Oasis bathhouse near Dongsishitiao Bridge, and took away all members of staff, but not the clients. At present, these two bathhouses have been shut down. It was reported that at the same time, in another part of the city, another gay bathhouse was also shut down."

In other developments, an announcement posted by the proprietors of the gay website Beijing Tongzhi told of mass arrests of gay sex workers identified by their Internet ads. (The word "tongzhi," which literally means "comrades," has been largely adopted by Chinese gays to refer to themselves.) The website's statement read, "These days, Beijing is clearing out the city and carrying out a crackdown on sex work, the police has currently detained more than 80 sex workers, this website does not welcome people with illegal intentions, and hopes everyone works together to fight illegal behavior, thanks for your cooperation!"

Wan is not the only one in China to report on the anti-gay crackdown. The Shanghai-based English-language website The Shanghai-ist reported that "the raid on the Beijing club Destination took place the same night as a raid against PinkHome of Shanghai, where a number of gays were arrested. Such repressive measures taken so rapidly in such a short time span against places frequented by gays has never before been seen in China, and justifies our being afraid."

The number of commercial nightclubs, bars, and bathhouses for gays has grown in recent years ever since the change in the legal statutes regarding homosexuality. In 1997, the term "criminal" was removed from the Criminal Code against gays arrested for "solicitation," the preferred charge at that time against gays whom the police suspected of cruising. Homosexual acts were thus effectively decriminalized, and in April 2007 homosexuality was removed from the official Chinese list of mental illnesses.

Contacted by this reporter, a foreigner residing in Beijing who had spoken to a number of Chinese gays said by telephone, "The authorities have begun this so-called clean-up to signal to Chinese gays that they better be really discreet and invisible during the Beijing Olympics.

The government is very suspicious of anyone or anything that they do not consider normal or in keeping with official standards for correct conduct. And the authorities want to drive out of Beijing all those who do not have the internal passport required to reside there, which is often the case among gays who seek to lose themselves in the more tolerant great cities, as official persecution of gays in the provinces and rural areas can be quite severe."

In addition, according to this source, corruption may also be playing a role in the crackdown on commercial gay establishments.

"New commanders were recently appointed for every police district in Beijing, and some suspect that the raids on the clubs and baths are a way of telling the owners that the new commanders expect to receive the usual bribes if those places want to be able to continue their business without being bothered, harassed, or closed," this source said.

Wan's email also reported intimidation of a number of Chinese gay activists, including several lesbians, who were harassed on March 21, the day after the opening of an exhibit, by the Chinese advocacy group Common Language, of 10,000 signatures on a petition-banner supporting same-sex marriage equality. The gay and lesbian activists were visited in their homes by the police, as were their landlords and employers, who were interrogated about the pro-LGBT activities of the investigation's targets. Other gay activists had their residence permits called into question by the police.

Meanwhile, in London, Britain's best-known gay militant, Peter Tatchell, was arrested on April 6 after he ambushed the Olympic Flame during its relay through the British capital. Tatchell, head of the UK gay agit-prop group OutRage!, was violently tackled and wrestled to the ground by police when he jumped in front of the bus carrying the Olympic Flame just outside Selfridge's department store.

Tatchell shouted "Free Hu Jia! Free Tibet!" as he blocked the bus. Video footage of Tatchell's demonstration and arrest were shown on television reports worldwide. After questioning by police, he was released without charges.

Tatchell later praised Hu Jia for having "exposed the Chinese government's cover up of the use of HIV-contaminated blood, the lack of support and care for people with HIV, and he challenged social prejudice and discrimination against people with the virus. Hu Jia is a truly heroic figure, who has shown immense foresight, determination, and bravery. He has kept campaigning, even though he knew it would put him at risk of arrest, torture, and imprisonment. In jail, Hu Jia is likely to be mistreated, denied medical treatment for his hepatitis B infection, and starved of proper food."

In San Francisco, the only American city to be visited by the Olympic Flame on its way to Beijing, a group of gay activists this past weekend joined a pro-Tibet demonstration and also demanded the release of Hu Jia.

South African Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu, in San Francisco to receive an award on April 8 from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) for his work on behalf of lesbian and gay rights, used the occasion to call on world leaders to boycott the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. Tutu praised the willingness of people around the world to protest China's repression of Tibet and on its own soil.

"Sometimes we think that there is a lot of indifference," Tutu told the Los Angeles Times at the IGLHRC event, "but I am thrilled myself that people care as much as they have shown they do."

An insight into gay life in China

An insight into gay life in China

By Erin Zureick (chinadaily.com.cn)

A lot can change in six years.

At least that's the experience of Didier Zheng, an openly gay Chinese man who just wrapped up a stint hosting China's first Internet television show devoted to addressing homosexual issues.

Didier Zheng, A French teacher and AIDS activist, hosts a live weekly show on the Internet about issues ranging from AIDS prevention to why some people are gay. [chinadaily.com.cn]
Educated at the Sorbonne University in Paris, Zheng said he found a new climate in China after returning in 2006 from his six years abroad. That's because in 2001 the Chinese government took homosexuality off its list of mental illnesses; and Shanghai's Fudan University introduced its first undergraduate course on homosexuality in 2005.

And then there's Zheng's live weekly show, which made its Internet debut in April. Called "Tongxing Xianglian," or "Connecting Homosexuals," the show's purpose was to educate gay and heterosexual communities about issues ranging from AIDS prevention to why some people are gay.

Speaking to chinadaily.com.cn in French-accented English, Zheng is talkative and eager to talk about gay issues. The 27-year-old has a slim build and engaging personality.

"After 2001, everything changed," Zheng said. "Society is changing. We are paying more attention to gay man's socialization and integration [into society]."

A French teacher and AIDS activist at Chi Heng Foundation, Zheng believes that China's economic development, coupled with an influx of foreign ideas from across the globe, has helped China make progress in its treatment of gays.

The show's guests were chosen to represent different aspects of gay life. For example, some were celebrities such as singers and actors, while others included doctors and ordinary Chinese. Zheng also conducted interviews at a gay bar called Destination in Beijing's Sanlitun nightclub area.

"I just want to give more information, especially to non-gay people," he explained. "They know very little about gay life."

But despite the warming climate in China for gays, the show also indicates how much more progress the country needs to make.

Zheng thinks the Internet format of the show worked well because content is archived online at www.phoenixtv.com and viewers can watch it at their convenience. But he also acknowledged that the authorities monitored the show's content carefully, though he declined to cite specific examples of changes.

So far, 16 million people have logged on to watch the talk show, which had 12 episodes.

"There are many people in China's gay community, but people don't have a deep enough understanding about this community," the show's producer Gang Gang said before the debut. "This community faces a lot of trouble and difficulties."

Zheng said his family, especially his brother, have been very supportive of his decisions. But many of his friends have not been as fortunate - which partly motivated him to host the show.

"Discrimination is very common in a society," Zheng explained, adding that he thinks that younger generations are slowly changing this behavior and that this is an international norm.

The show aired through the year's second three-month programming season. Zheng said he is unsure if he will be asked to do something similar for another season.

Zheng hopes in the near future to produce some special reports and conduct more interviews. His goal is to speak with high-level international officials such as the mayor of Paris to ask them about the government's role in legislating rules related to homosexuals. He said these interviews could serve as possible models for Chinese behavior.

"I just want to speak out about gay life in China."

Shot at dawn! Execution by shooting & the firing squad

In most countries, up until the 20th century, shooting was reserved for military personnel with civilians being executed by other methods, mostly hanging. For some reason, shooting was considered a more honourable death for soldiers than hanging. From the military perspective it had obvious advantages - the necessary personnel and equipment for a firing squad were always readily available.
Shooting became the standard form of execution in most Communist countries during the 20th century, and they are still the main users, even where they have abandoned Communism. The former Russian states have now all but abolished the death penalty although shooting executions were common up to the early 90's, mostly by a single pistol shot to the back of the head or neck.
Shooting executions seem to be declining rapidly in the 21st century as the main user,
China, moves increasingly to lethal injection. The conventional firing squad is less and less used nowadays due to the difficulties in finding suitable volunteers and the expense of setting up a suitable place where people other than the prisoner will not be injured by flying bullets. Shooting is a gruesome business, which is off-putting to the governments of democratic countries with a free press who do not wish to have the bad publicity that inevitably follows a gruesome or botched execution.

Countries using shooting in the 21st century. Click here for a picture of a modern firing squad execution in the Middle East.
Sixty nine countries had shooting as a lawful method of execution up to 2000, either exclusively or for some classes of crime or criminal (e.g. military personnel are shot whist civilians are hanged as in
Egypt). Executions by this method are steadily declining and countries such as China, Guatemala and Thailand have moved to lethal injection.

30 executions by shooting were recorded in 2007, with 15 in Afghanistan, 1 each in Belarus, Ethiopia, Indonesia and North Korea, 3 in Somalia and 8 in Yemen. It is assumed that the execution in Belarus was by a single shot to the back of the head. It is not known how many shooting executions were carried out in China but shooting is still in use in some provinces there.

In 2006 just twenty confirmed executions by shooting were recorded. There were three in Bahrain on the 11th of December 2006, the first executions here since 1996. Jasmine Anwar Hussain was reported to have taken 10 minutes to bleed to death after she and her accomplice were executed in Bahrain’s Jaw prison. They were each tied to a chair and either blindfolded or hooded before being shot through the chest by a six man firing squad.
Three men were executed in
Indonesia and three more in Somalia. The United Arab Emirates executed 3 men by firing squad, the first executions there for 3 years. Vietnam recorded just 6 executions (four men and two women). Two men were shot in Yemen. Somalia uses a single executioner with a machine gun. The other countries mentioned use conventional firing squads. It is not known how many executions in China used gunshot in this year.

During 2005, there were at least 41 executions by shooting. They took place in Indonesia (3), Libya (15), Palestine (1), Uzbekistan (1), Vietnam (9) and Yemen (7). It is probable that China continued to use shooting during this year. Uzbekistan shootings are carried out by a single bullet to the back of the head. Indonesia, Lebanon, Libya, Palestine and Vietnam use conventional firing squads and had a total of 28 executions. Yemen lays the prisoner on the ground and a single executioner shoots them with an automatic rifle.

At least 72 men and 11 women were shot in 2004. 34 men and ten women were executed by police firing squads in Vietnam. Afghanistan used shooting, by means of a single bullet to the back of the head, for its only execution since the fall of the Taliban. The criminal, a former warlord, Abdullah Shah, had been convicted of multiple murders and was shot on the 20th of April 2004. The same method was used for 24 executions in China during this year.
Three drug traffickers were shot in
Indonesia, Ayodhya Prasad Chaubey was executed on the 5th of August and Thai citizens, Saelow Praseart and Namsong Sirilak (female) on October the 1st.

China has the death penalty for 68 crimes including murder, drug trafficking, rape, re-selling VAT receipts, pimping, habitual theft, stealing or dealing in national treasures or cultural relics, publishing pornography, selling counterfeit money, economic offences such as graft, speculation and profiteering and even killing a panda.
During the "Strike hard" campaign against crime in
China during the Spring of 2001, Amnesty International recorded a staggering 1,781 executions. This figure is greater than the total number of executions carried out in the rest of the world put together.
China does not publish statistics about the death penalty - these are a state secret.
Executions are often carried out immediately after a public sentencing rally and the criminal's family is made to pay for the bullet.
The prisoner's arms are shackled behind them and they are made to kneel down before receiving a single bullet fired at close range into the back of the head or neck by a soldier or policeman or by a bullet fired into the heart from behind using an automatic rifle. (
Click here for photo)
Chinese laws do not specifically state the site of execution grounds and shootings are carried out at military target ranges and along river banks and on remote hill sides, the prisoners being transported in open lorries from the sports stadiums where they were sentenced.
Condemned criminals are not executed inside prisons because it is regarded as inhumane for other inmates to hear the sound of gunfire.
In a typical mass public execution in December 1995, 13 men and women convicted of murder and highway robbery were shot after the Court dismissed their appeals. Chinese television showed the 9 men and 4 women being paraded at a sports stadium in front of a crowd of more than 10,000 before being taken to the execution ground on a nearby hillside.
Frequently the kidneys, hearts and corneas are removed from the dead prisoners and used in transplants at local hospitals. "Execution is one of the indispensable means of education," China's paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, once said.
During 1997,
China began experimenting with lethal injection and this has replaced shooting in some provinces and tends also to be used on high ranking prisoners.

In the years following the 1979 revolution, Iran shot hundreds if not thousands of criminals, reaching a peak in the early 1980's. Their crimes included murder, drug trafficking, adultery, prostitution, armed robbery, political violence and religious offences. Typically those who were to be shot were lined up in groups seated on the ground along a wall and blindfolded. They were each shot by a Revolutionary Guard standing in front of them using an automatic rifle. Since then Iranian executions have been mostly by hanging.

Nigeria uses both hanging and shooting and on Saturday, July 22nd, 1995, executed 43 convicted armed robbers at the Kirikiri maximum security prison in Lagos before a hushed crowd of around a 1,000 people.
It was the largest number of executions in one day in Nigeria for decades and was intended to crack down on a recent upsurge in violent crime.
The prisoners, some of whom had been on death row for as long as 16 years, were tied to stakes at the Kirikiri shooting range before a 12 man firing squad of soldiers marched in from behind the prison walls and opened fire. The soldiers dressed in camouflage and with black shoe polish on the faces used semi-automatic weapons to execute the convicts in 3 groups of 12 and one of 7.
The executions began at 9:30 a.m. and ended at 11 a.m. Three doctors, one a woman, certified the deaths, and an Irish Roman Catholic priest and a Moslem Imam witnessed them.
Armed robbers are frequently sentenced to be shot and at one time in the northern state of Kaduna, the Military Governor thought that shooting gave the prisoner too quick a death and decided that their agony should be prolonged by ordering the firing squad to aim at the feet and legs and then progressively higher up with each volley until the prisoner died.

Uniquely, Thailand used a single executioner with a one stand mounted machine gun per prisoner, to put murderers and drug traffickers to death. Over 500 people were shot in Thailand between 1937, when shooting replaced beheading and October 2003, when Thailand moved to lethal injection as its sole method of execution.
All those sentenced to death there were held at Bang Kwang maximum security prison, about 20 miles outside Bangkok. The virtually soundproof execution chamber, known as the "Place to Relieve Suffering," contained two wooden crosses and two stand mounted Heckler & Koch 9mm machine guns.
Prisoners are confined in heavy leg irons from the time of sentence to the time of execution, which could be anything from a few weeks to a few years and were told of their fate only hours before they were shot.
On the day of execution, the prisoner was taken from their cell and photographed and fingerprinted. They were then taken to the execution chamber and handcuffed to a cross like wooden frame with their back to the machine gun, 4 meters behind them. A white cloth blindfold is applied and the hands tied with a sacred Buddhist cord. Flowers are hung from the prisoner’s hands as an offering to Buddha and a canvas screen is pulled between the condemned and the gun. A target is fixed onto the screen level with the prisoner’s heart and the gun aimed at the centre of the target. The executioner takes up his position, watching another member of the execution team who raises a red flag, and on the signal from the prison governor, the flag is dropped and the executioner fires a fully automatic burst of 15 rounds into the victim’s heart. Fourteen men and one woman faced this death during 1999. Only one execution was recorded in 2000. There were at least 6 in 2001 and another 6 in 2002 and 4 in 2003. Click here for a photo of Thai execution.
Five men were shot on the 18th of April 2001 and the local media reported the preparations as follows. At 5.30 p.m., Lee Yuang-kwang, a Hong Kong Chinese man convicted of drug trafficking, was taken to the execution chamber. He was blindfolded with a white cloth before being led into the chamber with his legs and hands shackled. He managed to smile and walked unaided. About 20 minutes later, Boonkerd Jitpranee and Chu Chin-kuay were taken in. Chu appeared grim, his face ashen, while Boonkerd looked nonchalant. They were followed 25 minutes later by the final pair, Vichien Saenmahayak and Romali Tayeh who were shot at 6.38 p.m. The short bursts of fire from the two machine guns were barely audible outside the chamber. After each execution, the place was quickly cleaned up and the blood washed away, to prepare for the next prisoners. Through a glass door, a black cloth could be seen, blocking the view of the condemned.

Executions are carried out by a firing squad comprised of 7 policemen. Six of the men fire rifles while the captain fires a final shot to the head from a handgun. The prisoners are blindfolded and tied to stakes at execution grounds in the suburbs of Vietnamese cities. Relatives of the condemned are not informed of the execution beforehand, but are asked to collect the prisoners belongings two or three days afterwards. Although the Government has cut the number of crimes punishable by death to 29 from 43, some 40 men and 7 women have been shot during 2004. Only 9 executions were recorded in 2005 and 6 in 2006. The Vietnamese Prime Minister, Phan Van Khai, has instructed the ministries of Justice and Public Security to look into the possibility of changing the method of execution to an automated shooting process due to the fact that nervous young policemen sometimes miss their target.

The American state of Utah.
Utah is the only state to have used the firing squad in recent times. Only Utah and Idaho allow this method and it is doubtful whether either state will use it again unless a prisoner specifically elects it. Four of Utah’s condemned prisoners have indicated that they will choose this option.
On the 17th of January 1977, Gary Mark Gilmore became the first person to be executed in the U.S. for 12 years after putting up a strenuous campaign to be allowed to die. He chose shooting. Under Utah law in force at the time, the condemned man had the choice of shooting by firing squad or hanging. He was executed by 6 volunteers in the old canning factory in the prison grounds using Winchester Model 94 lever action repeating rifles loaded with Winchester Silver Tip 150-grain .30-30 caliber cartridges. Only 5 of the rifles had live ammunition, the sixth containing a blank round so that the firing squad would not know who had fired the fatal shots.
He was tied to a chair and had a white target pinned over his heart. After the death warrant had been read to him, he was asked if there was anything he wanted to say and uttered the famous line, "Let’s do it."
His execution renewed the capital punishment process in America and was graphically described in the Norman Mailer book and subsequent film "The Executioner's Song."
Nineteen years later, John Taylor became the second person to suffer the same fate.
Taylor, 36, was convicted of the 1988 rape and strangulation of 11-year-old Charla King and was duly executed on the 26th of January 1996 at 12:03 a.m. Mountain Time. One of the 9 media witnesses, Paul Murphy of
KTVX-TV Salt Lake, described the scene saying, “we saw this very large man strapped to a chair. His eyes were darting back and forth". He was strapped to the chair by his hands and feet and lifted his chin for Warden Hank Galetka to secure a strap around his neck and place the black hood over his head. At 12:03 a.m., on the count of three, the five riflemen standing 23 feet away fired at a white cloth target pinned over Taylor's heart. Blood darkened the chest area of his navy blue clothing, and four minutes later, a doctor pronounced him dead. Very little blood spilled into the pan under the chair's mesh seat.
As the volley hit him Taylor's hands squeezed up, went down, and came up and squeezed again. His chest was covered with blood." The prison doctor came in, cut holes in the hood and examined Taylor's pupils to verify he was dead. "The image I have when I close my eyes is of his chest heaving upward after he was shot," said witness Kevin Dale Stanfield.
" John Albert Taylor was pronounced dead at 12:07," said Ray Wahl, director of field operations at the Utah State Prison. "It went like clockwork, just like we rehearsed," prison warden Hank Galetka told reporters. "There was no hesitation at all," "Taylor went to his death with steely determination even though only hours before he had to be given medication because his stomach was "doing flip-flops."

Almost all executions in Yemen are for murder and are carried out in public, normally attended by relatives of the victim.
One of the most notable recent executions was carried out on the 20th of June 2001 when Sudanese mortuary assistant, Mohammad Adam Omar, nicknamed "the Sana'a Ripper," was shot in front of a crowd of 50,000 for the rape and murder of two university students. He was brought into the execution ground (a sports stadium) with his hands cuffed behind his back and was ordered to lie face down. His executioner fired 3 shots into his heart with an AK-47 assault rifle and as Omar was still moving, fired a fourth shot from close range into his head.

The firing squad in Britain.
As mentioned earlier, the firing squad has always been the preferred method of military execution, no British civilian having ever been shot. (Click here for a photo of a typical firing squad execution.)
It is not known when shooting was first used as a method of execution in Britain, but there are records of soldiers being executed by shooting during the English Civil War in the 17th Century and Roche's 18th century map of London shows an area adjacent to Tyburn gallows "where soldiers are shot."
On July 18th, 1743, 3 members of the Highland Regiment, who had been convicted of mutiny, were shot at dawn on Tower Green. They were shot by an 18 man firing squad.
During World War 1, at least 306 soldiers were shot for desertion, cowardice and other offences. Many of these were young recruits who were probably suffering from shell shock. There has been a long campaign to get posthumous pardons for them which came to fruition in 2006 when the Government decided to pardon all of them. A monument to them in the form of an Arboretum containing a statue of an unnamed soldier facing the firing squad has been created at Alrewas in Staffordshire. 2006. Desertion ceased to carry the death penalty after 1930.
Foreigners convicted of spying in the 1st World War were normally sentenced to die by firing squad, the executions taking place on the rifle range in the Tower of London. According to usual practice, the condemned was tied to a chair with a target pinned over his heart and shot by a 6 man firing squad from the Scots Guards regiment. One of their rifles contained a blank round. Twelve men were to suffer this fate, 11 during World War 1 and one during World War 2, when on Thursday, August the 14th, 1941, Josef Jakobs, a German spy, was executed. It is thought that Jakobs was shot as he was an NCO in the German Army. All other spies captured during World War 2 were hanged at either Pentonville or Wandsworth prisons in London.
Two American soldiers were executed by firing squad at Shepton Mallet prison during World War 2. They were 20 year old Alex Miranda, who shot his sergeant, for which he was in turn shot on the 30th of May 1944 and Benjamin Pyegate, who had stabbed a fellow soldier to death for which he was executed on the 28th of November 1944. Soldiers convicted of murder (or rape in the case of U.S. soldiers) were hanged either in British civilian prisons or at the U.S. Military prison at Shepton Mallet. For more on British firing squad executions visit

How shooting kills.
Shooting can be carried out by a single executioner who fires from a short range at the back of the head or neck, as is the case in China and the USSR (before abolition). The intention of shooting at short range is to destroy the vital centres of the medulla (lower brain stem), as happens when a captive bolt is used for slaughtering cattle.

The traditional firing squad is made up of 3 to 6 shooters per prisoner who stand or kneel opposite the condemned who is usually tied to a stake or a chair. Normally the shooters aim at the chest, since this is easier to hit than the head. A firing squad aiming at the head produces the same type of wounds as those produced by a single bullet, but bullets fired at the chest rupture the heart, large blood vessels and lungs so that the condemned person dies of haemorrhage and shock. It is not unusual for the officer in charge of the firing squad to have to give the prisoner a "coup de grace" - a pistol shot to the head to finish them off after the initial volley has failed to kill them.

A bullet produces a cavity which has a volume many times that of the bullet. Cavitation is probably due to the heat dissipated when the impact of the bullet boils the water and volatile fats in the tissue which it strikes. According to Dr. Le Garde, in his book "Gunshot Injuries," it is proved both in theory and by experimentation, that cavitation is caused by the transfer of the momentum from the fast moving bullet to the tissue which is mostly comprised of incompressible liquid.
Persons hit by bullets feel as if they have been punched - pain comes later if the victim survives long enough to feel it.
The British Royal Commission on Capital Punishment (1953) considered shooting as an alternative to hanging, but rejected it on the grounds that "it does not possess even the first requisite of an efficient method, the certainty of causing immediate death." Those giving evidence to the Commission frequently emphasised their belief that execution should be rapid, clean and dignified.

When all goes well, shooting can provide a quick death but there are many recorded instances of it failing to kill the condemned person immediately. There are also instances of people surviving their execution. It would seem that one of the problems of the firing squad is that it is, typically, composed of volunteers rather than professional executioners and it is a task that many people would not find easy to perform when the time comes to actually squeeze the trigger. Shooting is always a gruesome and bloody death.

Covering The Olympics? The Chinese Government's Probably Keeping Tabs On You.


So, hmm. The bastion of press freedom known as China is building an extensive database on the 30,000 foreign journalists scheduled to cover the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But, don't worry: It's not to create blacklists, obstruct reporters or to prevent access to those rabblerousing Uighur and Tibetan secessionists.

The San Francisco Chronicle was told they have until February to disclose the names of their journalists... and the Agence France-Presse got the quote of the day, from Li Zhanjun of the Beijing Olympic organizing committee's media centre:

"Some reporters like to cover sport and some others are very interested in politics ... so we have some kind of data and information concerning that."

No comment necessary on that one, eh?