Chinese social media users are debating the practice in one city of publicly sentencing death row inmates and parading them in the lead-up to their deaths.
Lufeng, a city in southern Guangdong province, is increasingly publicising criminal verdicts, in what appears to be a bid to stamp out its reputation as a hotbed for synthetic drug production.
This week, a court in the city invited members of the public to watch 12 convicts be sentenced at a local sports stadium. It was attended by thousands.
Popular news website The Paper says that following their verdicts and with the approval of the court, the 10 who were given death sentences for drug offences “were escorted immediately to the place of execution and terminated”.
Public sentencing is rare in contemporary China, but appears to have been gaining momentum in the coastal region of southern Guangdong.
The city of Lufeng made international headlines in June when two courts in the region publicly announced the sentences of 18 people, including eight people it said were executed immediately after their trial.
Specifically in the last couple of months, the Guangdong government has been looking to give more online visibility to its no-nonsense stance on drugs.
In November, Guangzhou Daily shared pictures of a public sentencing in the nearby city of Jieyang, which it said over 1,000 members of the public attended.
And the most recent 16 December hearing was further advertised via the popular mobile messenger WeChat. Footage of the verdict was widely circulated via influential media on the popular social network Sina Weibo and YouTube-like video site Miaopai.
The Beijing News’ footage of the hearing has been viewed more than three million times since it was posted on Saturday.
It shows convicts being surrounded by armed guards and led onto raised platforms to individually receive their sentences. Thousands of people can be seen in the background watching the spectacle.
After they have been sentenced, they are then led onto another platform on the back of a police car surrounded by armed guards and are driven away. For some of them, the journey is directly to the firing range.
Verdicts on murder, robbery and drug-related offences are read out at the hearing, but the paper only highlights that it is those found guilty of drug offences that were “immediately” executed.
‘The Cultural Revolution has come back’
The video has been criticised by human rights activists and online users alike.
Amnesty International’s William Nee said on Twitter: “The Chinese authorities have once again displayed a blatant disregard for human life and dignity”.
Many on Sina Weibo say that the video makes them think of a bygone era, saying that the method of public shaming makes them think that “the Cultural Revolution has come back”.
Some Chinese online users also voice their concerns about the apparent ease at which capital punishment rulings are seemingly handed out.
There have been a number of notorious instances where the police have forced confessions out of innocent people, who have then been subsequently executed, such as the case of Nie Shubin.
China carries out more executions than any other country in the world. There are no official statistics on how many are carried out, but it is widely believed that the number extends into the thousands.
The ‘Breaking Bad village’
Some online spectators argue that the method, although ugly, is necessary, given the city’s reputation.
Lufeng has been keen to stamp out its reputation as a hot bed for the production of ketamine and crystal methamphetamine, many of which is trafficked into areas of East Asia and Asia Pacific.
Since 2014, Lufeng has been known as “the city of ice” owing to the notorious large-scale production of synthetic drugs in the region. One of its villages, Boshe, has also been dubbed “the Breaking Bad village” by the international press.
And it has done little to shake this reputation. In March, the China National Narcotics Control Commission told media that China’s seizure of synthetic drugs including methamphetamine and ketamine has “surged by 106 per cent year on year in 2016”.
The official Xinhua News Agency said in November this year that the region is “plagued with rampant drug production and trafficking”.
“Over a third of meth consumed in China originates from Boshe and neighbouring villages”, it says, and adds that a startling “one in five families is directly involved in drug production”.
It notes that the police had solved over 13,000 drugs cases and seized 10 tonnes of drugs between January and October of this year in the region alone.
By Kerry Allen