London, Dec 5: The British tabloid Daily Mail has published unnerving pictures of Chinese women charged for drug smuggling, smiling as they are led to the execution ground.
One picture shows a young woman sitting cross-legged on the ground laughing playfully as she is fed a lychee. Another woman plays cards in pair of baggy pink pyjamas.
The moving images could show any group of young women as they go about their daily lives in prison.
But just hours - and in some cases minutes - after the pictures were taken, each of the four women were led into a concrete yard and executed, the report said.
These photographs have emerged for the first time in nearly a decade - and give an incredibly rare glimpse into final moments of Chinese prisoners on death row.
China carries out more executions than any other country.
In an unprecedented move, an unnamed civilian photographer was allowed inside No 1 Detention Centre for women in the industrial city of Wuhan, in central China.
The man took a series of pictures on June 24, 2003.
But so sensitive were the photographs, that the authorities banned them from being published. The government feared they would evoke sympathy for the female prisoners.
Until now they had remained unseen. However, last week the pictures were published for the first time on Phoenix TV, a broadcaster in Hong Kong.
The photographer was granted access to Ma Qingxiu, Li Juhua, Dai Donggui and He Xiuling from 9pm until 7.21 am the next morning.
The women had all been convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to death.
Ms Donggui is shown carefully folding her red prison clothes on the floor. She smiles as she displays off a red top to the photographer, choosing what her last outfit will be.
Crouching on her mattress, with her hands and feet shackled, she holds a bowl of green bean soup. In the corner of a room is a red bowl used for washing and a McDonald's meal given to prisoners.
Moments later a guard appears and feeds her a lychee before she's escorted the next morning to the execution grounds. As she prepares to be taken away, Ms Donggui applies red nail polish with the help of prison guards.
In another scene, Ms Juhua sits in her cell as a fellow convict records her last will and testament.
Just yards away Ms Xiuling and Ms Qingxiu laugh as they play cards with inmates. The cameraman remembers Ms Xiuling as being 'excited and exaggerated' during the evening.
The chubby 25-year-old prisoner, who had been caught carrying 7,000 grams illegal drugs, was the liveliest of the inmates, gently resting her head on another women's leg as she smiles.
She was worried about appearing 'too fat' in her pyjamas, and one of the inmates found her a black top to change into. Another image shows her squeezing into a new pair of shoes.
But throughout the evening she was restless, and began praying to the heavens to be allowed another chance at life.
At 6am, Ms Qingxiu, 49, hands over her old clothes to another inmate who will need them. She moves to a temporary cell and joins Ms Xiuling, who is dabbing tears from her eyes.
The final few photographs show the inmates walking into the execution ground. Some of them have their legs shackled as they join 16 other death row inmates.
Ms Xiuling is held by a guard, but she can't stop herself from crying as her life draws to a close. The women are taken away by guards and minutes later shot in the back of the head.