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Vietnam sentences 30 heroin smugglers to death

Facing death ... Defendants flanked by police stand and listen to their verdicts after a two-week long trial in the province of Quang Ninh, Vietnam.

Facing death ... Defendants flanked by police stand and listen to their verdicts after a two-week long trial in the province of Quang Ninh, Vietnam.

Thirty drug smugglers have been sentenced to death in Vietnam’s biggest drugs trial, involving the trafficking of about 12 tonnes of heroin.

There are 700 other prisoners - including foreigners convicted of drugs offences - already on death row in the communist country, which has some of the world’s toughest drugs laws.

In 2011 the country switched from firing squads to lethal injection for capital punishment, but since then has only executed a handful of people because of difficulty in acquiring the required drugs for injections.

A Vietnamese court on Monday sentenced 21 men and nine women to death at the end of a 20-day trial involving scores of defendants who were found guilty of trafficking drugs from the Golden Triangle opium growing region between 2002 and 2012.

State media reported that 13 defendants received life in jail and 46 others were given prison terms up to 20 years or warnings.

The trial in northern province of Quang Ninh involved the largest number of people sentenced to death in a single trial in Vietnamese court history.

Amnesty International said it was “dismayed” to learn of the sentences, which follow recent death sentences handed out in high-profile corruption cases.

“Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases, without exception,” said Rupert Abbott one of the organisation’s researchers in Asia.

Investigators said the defendants belonged to four international smuggling rings responsible for trafficking heroin and other drugs from neighbouring Laos’ Golden Triangle region into Vietnam and China.

Police made mass arrests after the syndicates were uncovered in August 2013.

As well as seizing drugs, police confiscated 20 luxury cars and dozens of weapons.

Vietnam has long been used to transit heroin from Laos, Myanmar and China to other Asia countries and Australia.

A 31-year-old NSW man could face the death penalty after being accused of smuggling 3.5 kilograms of heroin hidden in a suitcase seized at Ho Chi Minh’s Tan Son Nhat airport in October.

No details about the man have been made public in a country where charges, convictions and sentences are revealed only by local media which is strictly under state control.

State media reported that on December 31, a 23-year-old Vietnamese-Australian man was allegedly caught with pseudoephedrine at Tan Son Nhat airport.

The precursor drug hidden in two plastic boxes of tamarind marmalade was seized as the man was about to fly to Sydney, state media reported without providing any further details.

On December 8, authorities said they discovered a large quantity of precursor drugs in bottles of shampoo and hair dye that were being sent to Australia.

Trafficking of more than 100 grams of heroin is punishable by death or life imprisonment in Vietnam but death penalties for foreigners have typically been commuted to life sentences by ministerial pardon.

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