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article imageInterviews Before Execution reality show a hit on Chinese TV

By JohnThomas Didymus     Mar 4, 2012 in Entertainment
Beijing - A reality TV show featuring prisoners on death row confessing crimes and asking for forgiveness shortly before being led to execution has become a hit on a Chinese TV channel. The Saturday night TV show has a following of over 40 million viewers.
According to PBS International, Ms. Ding Yu hosts Interviews Before Execution, a program that has been described as the "ultimate reality show." In the primetime TV series, Ding conducts interviews with condemned criminals, most of whom have been found guilty of extremely violent crimes: a gay man who murdered his mother and defiled her dead body, criminals who kidnapped a young girl for ransom and then killed her when the family could not afford to pay her ransom, and a woman who stabbed her husband to death after having been abused for years by the man.
The interviews are face-to-face encounters with prisoners sitting opposite Ding in handcuffs and leg chains. The interviews typically begin in a lighter mood with questions about the subject's favorite music, movies and other past-times, then gradually moves on to more serious questions about details of the subject's crime. The interviews usually end with the condemned prisoner making an apology and delivering a farewell message. Then he/she is led away to die either by firing squad or lethal injection. Ding typically promises to deliver the prisoners' messages to their families, many of whom are not allowed to visit their condemned relatives on death row.
Daily Mail reports Interviews Before Execution began on TV Legal Channel in Henan province of central China five years ago and was given a prime-time Saturday night slot afer it became a hit with Chinese viewers.
The official explanation for airing the interviews is to "educate the public" and make them aware of the consequences of crime. Lu Peijin, who heads China's TV Legal Channel in Henan province said the idea for the show was Ding's, but getting official approval for the show took a long time. Peijin, echoing the official position, says that the purpose of the show is not to provide entertainment but to "inform and educate according to government policy." He said: "We want the audience to be warned. If they are warned, tragedies might be averted. That is good for society."
But in a country in which capital punishment is used for wide ranging offenses such as theft, drug trafficking and "crimes against the state," officials who select cases for Ding's interviews are careful to avoid "sensitive cases" or cases that are political. Judiciary officers select subjects for the interviews, and according to the show organizers, of over 200 cases, only five condemned prisoners have refused interview.
According to BBC Media Center, scenes from the program will be shown for the first time in Britain on BBC next week. BBC describes the show as an "extraordinary chat show." It has been confirmed for Monday 12 March on BBC 2 at 11.20-12.20am (local time).
Daily Mail reports Ms Ding has done more than 250 interviews of death row inmates. In an episode, a prisoner in his 20s begs his parents on his knees. He pleads moments before he is led away to execution: "Father, I was wrong. I'm sorry.". Before he is led away, his mother apologizes for having beaten him once and tells him: "Go peacefully. It’s following government’s orders."
Another scene in the series shows a firing squad of about 20 men with a senior officer briefing them. It is difficult to understand the meaning the officer intends to convey when he says: "Some criminals will be very tough and difficult. That means they’ll be dangerous."
Probably the most popular case so far, according to Daily Mail, was that of Bao Rongting, an openly gay man who murdered his mother and violated her body. Due to public interest in his case, three additional episodes were devoted to him. Rongting attracted public attention probably because of his gay status. Homosexuality is a taboo subject in China, and ads sensationalized his case, describing the interview, inappropriately, as "shining a light on a mysterious group of people in our country."
The strong public prejudice against gay people was displayed during the interview. No family member came to say farewell and Ding showed her reservations about homosexuality when Rongting asked her do him the last favor of letting him shake her hands. She accepted reluctantly, offered a hand warily and quickly withdrew after a light touch. She commented later: "There was a lot of dirt under his nails. For a long time there was a feeling in this finger. I can’t describe that feeling."
Ms. Ding has reacted to claims that asking condemned prisoners for an interview before execution is cruel. She said: "Some viewers might 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. When I am face-to-face with them 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."
She admits, however, to being haunted by the memories of the faces she has interviewed in the past. According to Ding, she once woke up in the middle of the night while riding in a train, and as she looked out of the window she saw faces of executed criminals she had interviewed. She said: "Their faces were so real and all of them were standing there looking at me. I was horrified – I have heard so many cases. It is really not good for me at all. I have too much rubbish in my heart."
The Chinese government is upset about the BBC documentary that plans to show scenes from Ding's interviews. They fear that airing the show in the West may lead to further accusations of human rights abuses against China. Ding and her colleagues have been banned from granting interviews.
Daily Mail reports that when Ding was contacted by phone at her TV station in Zhengzhou, she said: "I’m afraid I can’t speak to you about this. Our show involves a very sensitive subject involving human rights. We have been instructed not to accept any further interviews about the programme, particularly with foreign media."
A BBC spokesman commenting about the program said: "The programme provides a revealing insight into Chinese attitudes to the death penalty. By showing rare footage of China’s death row alongside interviews with convicts, judges and journalists, it opens up an aspect of China that is normally hidden from the world."
The Chinese government is widely criticized in the West for its liberal application of the death penalty to solving social problems. Capital punishment is administered for a wide variety of crimes ranging from tax evasion to aggravated murder and drug trafficking. China, according to Western sources, executes the highest number of people annually. According to the Dui Hua Foundation, China executes more people annually than all other nations combined. The exact number of executions is, however, a state secret.
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