Death Penalty: Iran, Vietnam Ring In New Year With More Executions, Death Sentences

Both Iran and Vietnam greeted the new year by resorting -- yet again -- to the ultimate sanction for drug trafficking offenders. In Vietnam, eight convicted heroin traffickers were sentenced to death this week, while in Iran, five drug traffickers were among 13 people executed Wednesday.

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International Anti-Drugs Day drug burn, Tehran
The Vietnam death sentences bring to at least 43 the number handed down for drug trafficking since the end of November. In the latest verdict, eight members of a gang that trafficked heroin from northwestern Son La province near the Laotian border to Hanoi, Haiphong, and Ho Chi Minh City got the death sentence. The court sentenced 29 others to lengthy jail terms, including 18 sentenced to life in prison.

While opium use has a centuries-old tradition in Vietnam, the Communist government has wiped out most large-scale poppy production. But trafficking from other Southeast Asian nations has been on the rise, drug use has increased sharply since the 1990s, and "heroin continues to be the preferred drug among younger drug abusers," according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

Iran, facing a flood of Afghan opium and heroin, has embraced a similarly final response. The three drug traffickers hanged Wednesday in Qom and the two hanged the same day in Zahedan were only the latest in the Islamic Republic's ongoing battle against trafficking. Last year, Iran carried out 297 executions, with an unknown but sizeable number of them for drug trafficking.

Under Iranian law, anyone found trafficking more than 30 grams (slightly more than an ounce) of heroin or five kilograms of opium is eligible for the death penalty.

That's the way it should be, said a judicial official in Qom. "By implementing God's law, we are increasing security in society and we are sending a message that Qom is not a safe haven for those who break the law," said local judiciary official Hoda Torshizi. But the drugs continue to flow unabated, proving that even state killings en masse can't compete with supply and demand.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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