How ephemeral even recent history is

I was researching countries’ contemporary practices of corporeal punishment, when I came across the following reference

The reference used for this fact, the single execution for espionage in China from the Death Penalty Database. The link used, however, is dead. 

No big deal you figure, Google. Do a verbatim search with quotes, top result the story of interest. Unfortunately, the author is not listed. I copy below for historical purposes the story of a single documented execution for espionage in China. I bold and emphasize what I think is likely a crucial factor in the saga and I leave to the reader’s imagination the power dynamics inherent in our bodily condition:

The family of a Chinese scientist executed for passing information to Taiwan has not been officially told of his death or what happened to his body, his daughter said yesterday, three days after he died.

“I can’t even describe how I feel about this. Angry of course,” said Ran Chen, the daughter of Wo Weihan, a 59-year-old medical scientist put to death in Beijing on Friday.

“We have sent letters to the US embassy asking them to help us to get further information, and we did the same with the Austrian embassy.”

Chen is an Austrian citizen married to an American. The Austrian embassy informed her of her father’s death shortly after his execution, but she said the Chinese authorities had remained silent.

She said the family wanted to know what happened to the body, as they were planning a funeral in Beijing, and whether Wo left a will.

“So far we haven’t received anything, but we really hope it’s going to happen today,” Chen said.

Wo, who lived in Austria between 1990 and 1997, was arrested in Beijing in January 2005. He was found guilty of giving military information to Taiwan and passing on details about the health of Chinese leaders.

The biochemist, who denied the charges, was sentenced to death in May 2007 after being convicted of passing state secrets.

Chen was allowed to visit her father in prison on Thursday for the first time in four years, not knowing that he would be put to death the following day.

Human rights groups and various Western governments criticised the handling of Wo’s case, with some saying the evidence was vague and the process lacked transparency.

The European Union and the United States both condemned his execution.
But China has rejected the criticism and defended the legal processes that led to Wo’s death.

“The trial procedure was just and fair and the rights of the accused were well protected,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in a statement released by the Xinhua news agency.

At the time, the Washington Post Foreign Service covered the execution, writing in an article titled “China Abruptly Executes Convicted Spy Wo Weihan; Family Denied a Chance to Say Goodbye”, Lauren Keene says the following (again reported in entirety below for historical preservation):

BEIJING, Nov. 28 — China on Friday executed a man convicted of passing sensitive military and political information to Taiwan a day after notifying his relatives through diplomatic channels that they would have a second chance to visit him, his daughter said.

Austrian Deputy Ambassador Stefan Scholz relayed the news of the execution late Friday afternoon to the family of Wo Weihan, 60, according to Wo’s daughter Ran Chen. Chen is an Austrian citizen and had been appealing for clemency through diplomatic channels since arriving in Beijing on Monday. She said she had been told her father was executed by gunshot.

Wo was put to death even as Chinese and E.U. officials were wrapping up a summit on human rights here in Beijing. The sequence of events raises the question of whether the Chinese government had merely waited until the summit ended to carry out the execution. Capital punishment is at the top of the European Union’s human rights agenda with China, Scholz said Friday morning, before he learned of Wo’s execution.

The news shocked Wo’s family members, who at a Thursday afternoon news conference had praised China’s willingness to grant them a second visit and said they had not lost hope that Chinese officials would commute Wo’s sentence based on what they said were numerous legal flaws in the case against him.

Chen said that her father had not been told of his impending execution when she met with him Thursday morning and that she never received written confirmation that his final appeal to the Supreme People’s Court had been turned down.

“Our father was a Chinese citizen and is subject to Chinese law,” Chen wrote in a statement released Friday evening. “But the Chinese law also says that death row prisoners deserve the right to see their families before execution, to say goodbye and to go in peace.”

Chen said her parents had raised her and her sister to respect Chinese values of gratitude to and love for their parents. “The legal procedures in China, which we experienced in these last traumatic days, show no regard for these values,” she said.

The family expressed outrage at the breakdown in communication. “We’re extremely frustrated,” said Chen’s husband, Michael Rolufs, after hearing word of the execution from private contacts but before receiving confirmation through official channels.

Calls to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Austrian Embassy on Friday night went unanswered.

John Kamm, executive director of the Dui Hua Foundation, a human rights group in San Francisco who has worked closely with Chen on the case, reacted with anger and disbelief when reached by phone Friday evening.

“I have been doing this work for 19 years, and this is the absolute lowest point of those 19 years,” he said. “I am devastated.”

The New York Times also wrote (in a story headlined “Chinese Execute 2 Convicted of Spying”) of a second person being executed as a conspirator, one Guy Wanjun. Again, for history:

BEIJING — Despite pleas for clemency from the Bush administration and European officials, a biomedical researcher convicted of espionage by a Chinese court was executed Friday, according to family members and American Embassy officials.

The researcher, Wo Weihan, 59, was a scientist and owner of medical supply company. He was convicted last May of passing military documents and classified information about an unidentified Chinese leader to Taiwan. Mr. Wo’s family said he initially confessed to the crimes but later recanted, saying the confession had been coerced. The evidence against him was deemed a state secret, and even his lawyer was not allowed to discuss it with his family.

A distant relative of Mr. Wo, Guo Wanjun, 66, was convicted as a conspirator and also put to death on Friday, family members said.

A biomedical inventor who was partly educated in Europe, Mr. Wo was arrested in 2005 and suffered a stroke two weeks into his detention. He had been held at a prison hospital until Friday morning, when he was executed by a gunshot to the head, according to family members.

The American Embassy had protested Mr. Wo’s conviction, saying that his trial was carried out in total secrecy and that the accusations, if true, did not constitute a capital crime.

“We are deeply disturbed and concerned that Wo Weihan was executed today,” said Susan Stevenson, a spokeswoman for the embassy.

Earlier this month, the Supreme People’s Court upheld Mr. Wo’s death sentence although it did not disclose details of its ruling.

The plight of Mr. Wo drew international attention after his daughters, who are Austrian citizens, publicized his case and sought a stay of execution. Joshua Rosenzweig, a Hong Kong-based researcher with the Dui Hua Foundation, a human rights group, said these cases and another execution this week — that of Yang Jia, who was convicted of killing six policemen in Shanghai — demonstrated the opaqueness of the Chinese criminal justice system.

“The lack of transparency does nothing to reassure us that the court’s conclusion was the right one,” Mr. Rosenzweig said.

In all three cases, court proceedings were carried out in secret, and family members were not told when the executions would take place. Human rights advocates said the executions of Mr. Wo and Mr. Guo also went against a government decision last year that restricts the death penalty to “extremely serious or heinous crimes that lead to grave social consequences.”

One of Mr. Wo’s daughters, Chen Ran, a graduate student in Berkeley, Calif., said her family was never given an official confirmation that their father’s death sentence had been upheld. On Thursday she and her stepmother were given 30 minutes to see Mr. Wo at the Second Intermediate People’s Court in Beijing, she said.

He had seemed unaware that he was facing imminent death, she said, and insisted that he was innocent. Ms. Chen said he seemed assured that the conviction would be overturned.

“He was surprised and happy to see us, and he was hopeful,” she said. “Because we also had received no official confirmation on the status of the case, we allowed ourselves to hope with him.”

On Thursday evening, she said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs assured Austrian diplomats that Ms. Chen and her sister, who was traveling from Austria, would have another opportunity to see Mr. Wo. Around 5 p.m. on Friday, Austrian officials were informed that he had been executed.

“We were not allowed to say good-bye,” said Ms. Chen, who is still waiting to hear from the government about when she can retrieve her father’s body. “We were also denied the most fundamental and universal right of information about what was happening with our father.

“I don’t want people to think we hate China. We love so many aspects of China. We’re just really disappointed and shocked by the criminal justice system.”

A picture of Wo Weihan with his two daughters (Chen Di on his right, Chen Ran on his left) can be seen below.

Even with all this, I still can’t feel what happened. What was said? What was done? Why? When? By and to whom? This is why convictions ought to be public.