(BEIJING) — China’s state-run broadcaster, CCTV, made a grisly announcement this week. It planned to live broadcast the execution of a Burmese drug lord and three of his henchmen for massacring 13 Chinese crewmen aboard a ship on the Mekong River.
The murders had enraged China and the broadcast was initially greeted enthusiastically. The two-hour show, which aired on Friday, had all the elements of a sweeps week production, but as the program neared its close, the station abruptly changed plans and did not show the execution.
CCTV did not say why it altered its programming, but while the show was running, China News Week started a poll on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter. It asked whether people thought the live broadcast was right or wrong.
Initially, the majority of people supported it. But as the program began, that balance shifted until the firm majority were against CCTV’s decision. Within two hours of the execution, the poll was no longer accessible.
Chinese media identified the executed men as Naw Kham, a notorious drug lord who operated in the Golden Triangle area, along with Hsang Kham, Yi Lai and Zha Xika.
In October 2011, the group ambushed a Chinese cargo ship and killed 13 crew members. Kham was known to be the leader of the group. There was widespread fury in China and Chinese authorities launched a manhunt for his capture.
The South China Morning Post reported the Chinese government even considered sending an attack drone into Myanmar air space to locate Kham.
This week, CCTV announced the two-hour special that would feature live reports from the location where the men would be killed by lethal injection in Kumming, Yunnan Province. Initial reaction in China to the announcement was mixed.
As the show began at 1:30 p.m., a CCTV anchor, the police chief from Yunnan Province and a professor from Renmin University discussed the crime at length.
Viewers saw each man brought out of prison escorted by four armed guards. They were met with a large number of jostling photographers and cameramen from national media organizations. Their handcuffs were removed and their hands were bound behind them with rope.
The last viewers saw of the prisoners was them being loaded on to separate vehicles headed for the site of the execution.
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