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Over 60 Executed in China's Anti-Drug Crackdown - 2002-06-28

China executed more than 60 people over the past week for drug-related crimes. More executions are expected in coming weeks. But some rights groups warn of a miscarriage of justice as China carries out its harsh crackdown on crime.

China timed the executions to fall around June 26, the United Nations International Anti-Drug Day. Many of the executions took place before thousands of spectators.

The human rights group Amnesty International says it believes at least 13 other people, including an 18-year-old, are about to be put to death in China's Strike Hard campaign against drugs.

Dominique Muller, a China researcher for the rights group, says she is concerned innocent people may fall victim to Chinese courts eager to show they are tough on drug crimes.

"Courts are being told they should speed up procedures, they should sentence people severely and they should make the procedures much more streamlined and much faster so they can sentence and get through a lot more cases," she explained. " Obviously, this means the potential for a miscarriage of justice is huge."

Chinese state media portray the executions as triumphs in the nation's anti-drug campaign. The biggest wave of executions took place in the southwestern city Chongqing. Twenty-four people there found guilty of trafficking in heroin were shot Wednesday.

A person found carrying more than 50 grams of heroin is subject to the death penalty.

But critics say those sentenced to death have virtually no access to lawyers and are unable to defend themselves. Chinese courts usually pass the death penalty on people with little education, who cannot read or write.

Ms. Muller says China executes far more people for non-violent crimes than any other country in the world.

"In the first three months of the Strike Hard campaign, which began last year, China sentenced to death more people in those three months alone than the rest of the world sentenced in the last three years," she said.

China's Ministry of Public Security says the country faces a booming drug trade, and will intensify its crackdown. China has 900,000 confirmed drug addicts, 740,000 of whom use heroin.