Category Archives: Death penalty

My Days of Mercy review – death penalty drama, with added romance

My Days of Mercy review – death penalty drama, with added romance

3 / 5 stars 3 out of 5 stars.

Ellen Page is fighting to save her father from lethal injection when she falls for Kate Mara’s pro-execution lawyer


Love across the battle lines … Ellen Page, left, and Kate Mara in My Days of Mercy.
Love across the battle lines … Ellen Page, left, and Kate Mara in My Days of Mercy. Photograph: Signature Entertainment

Bridging America’s divided soul is the task Israeli film-maker Tali Shalom Ezer sets herself in her second feature, a romance-cum-road-movie-cum-capital-punishment social drama. Ellen Page, playing 10 years younger, is twentysomething anti-execution activist Lucy Morrow, whose father is due for lethal injection for the alleged murder of her mother. She falls in love across the battle lines with Kate Mara’s lawyer, one of the pro-capital punishment protesters she regularly sees at demonstrations around the country.

Possibly in a genre of two with Monster (2003) – the lesbian death-row romance – My Days of Mercy is considerably lighter, the effervescent chemistry between the two leads saving it from Sundance-y overearnestness. Mara has a wry authority over an admirably chippy Page, who has been press-ganged by her sister (Amy Seimetz) into career activism: “How was your proboning?” she needles her sibling’s lawyer lover. The film’s early, quasi-romcom tone means the film must straddle a tonal divide, too, as Lucy’s father’s execution date approaches. Structured around several protests before the final showdown, it emerges as a slightly ungainly hybrid: Four Killings and a Funeral, almost.

Director Ezer and cinematographer Radek Ladczuk (The Babadook) have a knack for crisp visuals that pop with graphic-novel succinctness, like the final-meal platters that open each section. But as My Days of Mercy quietly builds in power, in its back half, this tendency means the film falls short visually for what is, on paper, a courageous choice of climactic scene. It doesn’t find a way to fully convey the profound impact of watching the act of institutionalised murder. Coupled with the weakness for spats between Page and Mara to force the final act to a head, this ambitious film isn’t quite a full-bore success.




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“…lesbian death-row romance….”.

The film sounds terrible but if the movie is good, the last line of the review could’ve been “the film “kinda lingers’….”


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(Old joke from 1970s/1980s comedy show Not The Nine O’Clock News but probably goes back to music hall)



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Sounds terrible





Why China Executes So Many People

The Atlantic


Suspects listen to their verdicts at a court in Kunming, Yunnan province, November 6, 2012. (Reuters)

Zhang Jing has only seen her husband four times in the past four years. This Thursday, it will have been be exactly two years since they last met.

And she may never see him again.

That’s because Zhang’s husband, Xia Junfeng, a former street vendor in the northeastern city of Shenyang, was sentenced to death in 2011 for stabbing to death two chengguan, who are much-maligned city management inspectors responsible for enforcing law and order.

The sentence is now under final review by the Supreme People’s Court in Beijing. If approved, Xia will not be able to appeal and will be executed.

Zhang, 37, still adamantly believes that her husband is innocent.

“They charged him with intentional homicide. But how could my husband have ‘intentionally’ killed someone if they first beat him up?” Zhang questioned. “He was only defending himself. If he’d known what would happen, would he still have done it? Of course he wouldn’t have. Even if he escaped the death penalty, he’d lose freedom for the rest of his life behind bars. Isn’t that a very painful thing?”

“Also, why didn’t they call defense witnesses to testify in court? Why only call upon the chengguans‘ witnesses? I feel it was very unfair,” she said.

Cases like Xia’s, where there’s a chance that the accused could be innocent, are the focus of the anti-death penalty efforts in China. “Even those who strongly support the death penalty don’t support condemning an innocent person to death,” said Teng Biao, a human rights activist and founder of the non-profit Beijing-based China Against Death Penalty. Teng also served as the defense lawyer for Xia in his appeal.A report released last month by the human rights group Amnesty International said that, as in previous years, China executed more people last year than the rest of the world combined. While the official number is unknown — executions are considered state secrets in China — most estimates place the number at around 3,000. By contrast, 42 people were executed in the United States last year.

Opposition to the death penalty exists in China but faces many obstacles, including pro-execution government propaganda, class and income inequalities, and the lack of an independent judiciary. Another issue, alas, is popular indifference. But while anti-death penalty activists say public education is needed to get the message out, they believe change ultimately needs to come from the top — something that they’re not optimistic about at all.


The death penalty has deeply-entrenched roots in China, and the notion of sha ren chang ming, the Mandarin equivalent to “an eye for an eye”, is rife in Chinese literature and tradition. But a judiciary beholden to the interests of the Communist Party arguably has a bigger impact.

“If the case is deemed to be detrimental to social stability, the government might order the courts to issue the death penalty,” said Liu Weiguo, a Shandong-based rights lawyer. Even some supporters of the death penalty, like Guangzhou lawyer Cheng Zhunqiang, say that its legitimacy depends on the existence of an “extremely fair and just” judiciary, which China lacks. The current judicial system is unfairly skewed against the disenfranchised, and the application of the law is utterly arbitrary.

Prominent human rights lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan recalled a typical example: Gu Kailai, the wife of disgraced Politburo member Bo Xilai and convicted murderer, was given a suspended death sentence due to mental illness. Meanwhile, a villager from the impoverished southwestern province of Guizhou that Liu represented was refused a psychiatric assessment by the judges who eventually sentenced him to death.

The poor are further disadvantaged because they cannot afford to “buy back” their lives by offering financial compensation to the victim’s family in return for them not pressing charges. This issue loomed large in the case of Zhang Jing. “We’re just hawkers. We don’t have money. We can’t afford to compensate. It’s impossible,” she said.

Besides these legal questions, death penalty opponents contend that the government’s propaganda seeks to convince people that killing is appropriate in certain circumstances. Six decades of Communist rule have inculcated the idea that an individual life can be sacrificed for the greater good, a belief exemplified by the one-child policy.

There’s also a sense, reinforced through propaganda, that killing “bad people” is inherently just. In March, national television ran live footage of the run-up to the execution of four foreign nationals convicted of murdering 13 Chinese sailors on the Mekong River, an event that received international media attention. Shortly after the execution, Hu Xijin, the editor of the nationalistic state-run newspaper Global Times, declared to his 3.6 million followers on Weibo that “it is necessary to resolutely pursue revenge and send a stern warning to those who kill Chinese people.”

These efforts appear to be working. A survey of respondents in Beijing, Hubei and Guangdong conducted in 2008 by the Max Planck Institute revealed that almost 60 percent supported the death penalty. Unsurprisingly, capital punishment provides great legitimacy to the Communist Party, which claims to be satisfying popular sentiment and public indignation when it executes corrupt officials. China is one of the very few countries that has the death penalty for economic crime and has shown little mercy with disgraced government officials. And, in a country in which free speech isn’t guaranteed, the public hears few arguments against the death penalty in the national media.


Chinese opponents of the death penalty know they face a daunting environment.

“Very few people are aware of the concept of abolishing the death penalty, let alone the consideration of societal improvement and benefits that comes with getting rid of the sentence. Only an extremely small minority knows about it,” said Beijing-based human rights lawyer Li Heping. “An overwhelming majority, including some members of the legal profession, think that the death penalty is a right and proper punishment. They have not thought about this issue in depth.”

Liang Xiaojun, who works with Teng Biao, pointed out that China Against Death Penalty is China’s only grassroots organization that pays close attention to the death penalty issue. “The movement is not on track yet. We were only recently set up, so our influence is still quite limited,” he said.

For now, death penalty opponents are aiming to limit its use by first abolishing the sentence against non-violent crimes. China currently has 55 offenses that are punishable by death — the most in the world. Of these, 31 are non-violent offenses. But in the long term, death penalty opponents have a much higher aim: to completely overhaul the way the practice is judged in Chinese society.

Will this happen? Ultimately, most activists believe change requires leadership from the top. Many countries that abolished the death penalty did so before public opinion had swung in favor of ending it. The Communist Party, with its lack of political opposition, would face few hurdles should it choose to change this policy. Nevertheless, few Chinese are optimistic.

Back in Shenyang, Zhang Jing said she’s mentally prepared for the ruling, which could come any day.”I don’t dare give myself even a little hope. I’m afraid I won’t be able to take it,” said Zhang. “If the sentence is upheld, that means justice no longer applies. What can you do?” Her voice trailed off.

“I hope the death penalty can be abolished, not because of my husband’s case, but because I know that there’re many wrongful convictions,” she said. “But it’s a long, long road ahead. I don’t know when it’ll happen, I don’t know how many lifetimes later, but definitely not within my lifetime.”

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to

Zi Heng Lim is a journalist based in New York City.


Pre-Execution Reality TV Show on Death Row?

Pre-Execution Reality TV Show on Death Row?

Henan Television’s legal channel has been airing the reality show Interviews Before Execution (????) since 2006. Due to its online availability [zh], the program has been widely viewed across China. The show has lately been covered extensively by foreign media, most notably in a recent BBC This World documentary. An article in BBC News Magazine describes the show and its culturally-relative quality:

In Henan Province, in central China, millions of people have been tuning in every week to watch an extraordinary talk show called Interviews Before Execution, in which a reporter interviews murderers condemned to death. The show ran for just over five years, until it was taken off air on Friday.

Every Monday morning, reporter Ding Yu and her team scoured court reports to find cases to cover on their programme. They had to move quickly, as prisoners in China can be executed seven days after they are sentenced.

To Western eyes the show’s format may seem exploitative, but Ding disagrees.

“Some viewers may consider it cruel to ask a criminal to do an interview when they are about to be executed.

“On the contrary, they want to be heard,” she says.

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

An article in The Independent further describing the program mentions that some episodes previously available online have disappeared, and suggests that the BBC coverage may result in the show’s cancellation:

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

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

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

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

NBC News’ Behind the Wall provides some translated dialogue, and describes the controversy surrounding the show in China. The article also suggests that rumors of the show’s cancellation may not be reliable:

Ding was particularly blunt with one unrepentant interviewee, saying: “I’m glad you got caught. You are a scumbag.” One episode featured a man yelping, “I’m sorry,” and kneeling down on the ground hours before his execution. In another, right before his execution a convict asked her: “Can I shake hands with you?”

[…]”Many people say I’m an angel and devil. I never thought myself as an angel, because it’s work that puts me into contact with these people. I see myself more as a witness,” Ding told the BBC in their 50-minute-long documentary.

[…] A BBC report on Monday claimed the show was taken off the air by Henan TV last Friday. When NBC News reached Henan Legal Channel and asked about it, we were told that was not the case.

The temporary “disappearance” of the show is apparently only making room for a new show, and “Interview before Execution” will come back on air in about six weeks.

However, on the channel’s official website, no links to Ding Yu’s program can be found, while information about other shows is available.

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Interviews Before Execution,’ China Death Row Reality TV Show, Canceled


‘Interviews Before Execution,’ China Death Row Reality TV Show, Canceled

A reality-TV fate worse than being spurned by that final rose on The Bachelor actually exists; in fact, the participants on one Chinese television program were all put to death, with no Running Man-esque opportunity to survive — but the controversial program couldn’t get a stay to prevent its own demise.

Interviews Before Execution,” first broadcast on Henan Legal Channel Nov. 18, 2006, according to the BBC, interviewed a prisoner on death row every week in cruel and voyeuristic detail. The Daily Mail notes that sometimes interviews were recorded just minutes before a prisoner’s execution, and that many confessed crimes and begged for forgiveness as their time on Earth ran out.

Help us tell more of the stories that matter from voices that too often remain unheard.

“We want the audience to be warned,” Lu Peijin, director of the channel that produces the show, told “If they are warned, tragedies might be averted. That is good for society.”

Journalist Ding Yu interviewed more than 200 convicts on “Interviews Before Execution,” ABC News writes, in many cases meting out details about the grisly crimes they committed.

But what began as a planned public deterrent to crime turned into a popular phenomenon rivaling American Idol in the United States, capturing 40 million viewers per broadcast and rocketing Ms. Ding to fame, according to The New York Times.

Ms. Ding doesn’t believe her show was exploiting convicts. She was quoted by The Daily Mail:

“I feel sorry and regretful for them. But I don’t sympathise with them, for they should pay a heavy price for their wrongdoing. They deserve it.”

Ding acquired the nickname “Beauty with the Beasts,” the BBC reports.

Though not broadcast throughout China, the controversial “Interviews Before Execution” drew its best ratings on an episode featuring Bao Rongtin, an openly gay man who murdered his mother and violated her dead body, according to The Daily Mail. The show prompted additional episodes featuring the prisoner, and in his final conversation before execution, he implored Ms. Ding to shake his hand, which she did, but to which she later confessed to second-guessing. The BBC notes that homosexuality is still considered a taboo in China.

“I had never come close to a gay man, so I really couldn’t accept some of his practices, words and deeds,” Ding told the BBC.

The BBC and PBS International have picked up rights to the documentary, “Dead Men Talking,” according to the New York Times, which details the show’s explosive popularity. PBS International‘s website describes the film and its additions by the BBC as taking “viewers into the nightmare worlds of violent criminals sentenced to death—and of the TV journalist who is their last connection to this world.”

The international spotlight on the show comes on the heels of the show’s cancellation, according to ABC News, which the news outlet confirmed with Legal TV Channel, the station in China’s Henan province that produced and broadcast the show. The cancellation was attributed to “internal problems.”

In China, the BBC notes, 55 crimes are punishable by death, including murder, treason and bribery. Crimes such as tax fraud, credit fraud and smuggling relics were only recently removed from the list of capital offenses. The New York Times notes that the exact number of yearly executions in China remains a state secret, though Amnesty International and other groups estimate the country as the leading executioner in the world.

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