Chinese authorities have once again commemorated the UN International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking by stepping up their drug enforcement efforts.
Ahead of the UN anti-drug day on Wednesday, Xinhua News Agency reports that six men were executed in China on Tuesday for separate drug-trafficking charges. Another four individuals were given death sentences, the report said.
Two of the men who were put to death on Tuesday were tried in Fujian Province. The first man was convicted of hiring people to help him smuggle nearly 5 kilograms of methamphetamine back in 2010. After being arrested he was found in possession of five firearms.
The second individual tried in Fujian Province was convicted of buying and selling 1.78 kg of heroin in Guangzhou, the capital city of Guangdong Province. His case also dates back to 2010.
The third individual who was put to death on Tuesday was convicted in 2011 of transporting 3 kg of methamphetamine from Hubei Province to Wuhan in southeastern Zhejiang province.
In all three cases the People’s Supreme Court approved the death sentences, the paper said.
In addition, three men were executed in Hainan Province on Tuesday, for trafficking methamphetamine, ketamine and heroin.
The newspaper also said that the Intermediate People's Court of Wenzhou City handed out death sentences for two men who separately trafficked heroin and methamphetamine, without giving further details on the amount of drugs or the dates of their trials. Then, in Yunnan Province, six individuals were convicted of trafficking methamphetamine, four of whom were sentenced to death.
This followed reports over the weekend that 251 individuals had been arrested by police in Heilongjiang Province in northeastern China, for participating in a two-year drug trafficking campaign that stretched from Sichuan, Yunnan and Guangdong to Heilongjiang Province. Xinhua quoted the police chief as saying that 16.5 kg of methamphetamine and more than 5,500 methamphetamine tablets had been seized in the bust. Already this year, China has sentenced nearly 31,000 individuals for drug-related offenses this year, about a quarter of whom received jail terms of five years or more.
China has a history of stepping up drug enforcement ahead of the UN International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, which falls on June 26 each year. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington-based non-profit that is seen as leaning towards opposing capital punishment, in the week leading up to June 26, 2010, China executed no less than 59 individuals for drug-related offenses. On the actual day itself, 20 people were put to death.
According to China’s criminal law code, death sentences can be handed out for anyone caught “smuggling, trafficking in, transporting or manufacturing opium of not less than 1,000 grams, or heroin or methyl benzedrine of not less than 50 grams or other narcotic drugs of large quantities.” There is also a fifteen year mandatory sentence (up to a life sentence) and the confiscation of all one’s property for anyone caught smuggling narcotics in these quantities.
China’s harsh justice towards drug traffickers reflects both its geographical location and burgeoning drug problem. With regards to geography, China is sits atop both of Asia’s drug-producing region. Towards southern China is the “Golden Triangle,” consisting of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand, which once produced half of the world’s opiates and now is famous for its vibrant methamphetamine trade.
Whatever the Golden Triangle has lost in its own opiate production has been more than compensated for by the Golden Crescent, centered around Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran to the west of China. By some estimates, Afghanistan alone accounts for 90 percent of the world’s non-pharmaceutical grade poppy production.
The presence of foreign drug smuggling in China immediately conjures up images of the British opium campaign against China in the 19th century. Perhaps because of these bitter memories, the Chinese government has not shied away from administering harsh penalties—including the death penalty—to foreign nationals caught trafficking narcotics in the country.
Still, China has also sought to deal with the issue by working its neighbors, most of whom also have an interest in addressing the narcotics issues they face. In April of this year, for instance, China launched a month-long anti-drug campaign with Laos, Myanmar and Thailand along the Mekong River. According to China’s Ministry of Public Security, this resulted in 1,100 arrests in 804 drug-related cases.
None of this is enough to tackle the amount of drug abuse that has pervaded China in recent years. Although the Chinese government was able to virtually eliminate narcotics usage during the Maoist era, as the country has opened its borders and income has risen, the drug problem has returned in China—with a vengeance. According to the government in Beijing, the number of registered drug addicts in China rose from 150,000 in 1991 to 1,545,000 in 2010. A mind-boggling 70 percent of these were addicted to heroin, contributing to a steep rise in HIV levels.
On Wednesday, Chinese authorities announced that the number of registered drug addicts in the country has now topped 2 million.