A court in the northern province of Hoa Binh on Monday sentenced eight people to death and handed down life sentences to five others at the conclusion of a mass trial.
Of the convicts who got the death penalty, seven men and one woman were found guilty of being part of a ring that smuggled around 180 kilograms of heroin across Vietnam’s northern mountainous provinces.
Five other members of the ring were jailed to life in prison, while a further 17 defendants handed jail terms ranging between six to 20 years for different crimes such as drug trafficking, harboring criminals, offering, brokering and taking bribes, murder, illegal use of weapons and opposing officials on duty.
Because of the large number of smuggled heroin and the seriousness of the case, such harsh sentences were justified, according to the verdict, which was delivered at the conclusion of the 14-day trial.
Police busted the rings in June 2011 in Hoa Binh, making mass arrests and seizing large quantities of illegal drugs. They also confiscated four cars, four guns and 27 cell phones during the raid, local media reported.
In what was Vietnam’s largest-ever narcotics case, the country's highest court in June 2014 upheld the death penalties against 29 of 30 people sentenced to die five months earlier. The drug mules were found guilty of smuggling nearly two tons of heroin from Laos into Vietnam and then on to China.
Vietnam has some of the world's toughest drug laws. Those convicted of smuggling more than 600 grams of heroin or more than 2.5 kilograms of methamphetamine face the death penalty.
The production or sale of 100 grams of heroin or 300 grams of other illegal narcotics is also punishable by death.
Vietnam switched to lethal injection from the firing squad in November 2011.
However, a European Union refusal to sell Vietnam the deadly injection led to a delay in executions until August 2013, when Vietnam began manufacturing its own lethal serum.
At that time, the number of death-row prisoners was reported to hover 600.
The EU banned the exportation of lethal injection drugs because it regards capital punishment to be a violation of human rights.
Although there are no official statistics, the death penalty is most frequently handed down in Vietnam to those convicted of drug offences and murder.