Vietnam sentences six members of smuggling gang to death for heroin trafficking

HANOI (AFP) - Vietnam on Friday sentenced six members of a smuggling gang to death for trafficking heroin and the party drug ecstasy, state media said.

The two-week trial ended in northern Hoa Binh province Friday with the 25 defendants all found guilty of moving some 620kg of heroin and 1,400 ecstasy pills between Hanoi and Vietnam's northern provinces.

Seven defendants were sentenced to life in prison, while 12 more were jailed for between 12 and 20 years on the same charge, according to the official Vietnam News Agency.

Communist Vietnam has some of the world's toughest anti-drug laws. Anyone found guilty of possessing more than 600g of heroin, or more than 20kg of opium, can face the death penalty.

Convictions and sentences are usually revealed only by local media, which is strictly under state control.

The "Golden Triangle" region covering part of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand was once the world's top source of opium but has been overtaken by Afghanistan.

In January, the authorities sentenced 30 drug smugglers to death in Vietnam's largest ever narcotics case, involving scores of defendants and nearly two tonnes of heroin.

According to media reports and an AFP tally, Vietnam currently has more than 700 prisoners on death row.

Many have been sentenced for drug offences including dozens of foreigners - although it has been decades since a foreign citizen was executed.

After a two-year hiatus in carrying out capital punishment due to problems procuring chemicals for lethal injections, Vietnam executed its first prisoner by the method last August.

Due to problems with both procuring and producing domestically the chemicals required for lethal injections, some lawmakers have called for a return to executions by firing squad.