Two South Korean citizens were executed for drug trafficking in China on Wednesday, Seoul officials said.
Two men, aged 53 and 45 and surnamed Kim and Baek respectively, were arrested in the northeastern province of Jilin in April 2011. Kim was convicted of smuggling 14.8 kilograms of methamphetamine on 14 occasions from 2010-11 and selling 12.3 kilograms of the drug to Baek, who resold it to South Korean cartels.
The other person, a 56-year-old identified only by his surname Chang, is reported to be awaiting execution. Chang was arrested in May 2009 for illicitly bringing 11.5 kilograms of the substance into the eastern coastal province of Shandong, transporting and selling it.
All three appealed to higher courts, which upheld the original rulings.
The execution marks the first death of a South Korean drug smuggler since 2001. In 2004, another man was executed after being convicted of murder.
Seoul's Foreign Ministry expressed regret, saying it will provide support for the bereaved families such as for the return of the prisoners' remains.
"We will continue efforts to prevent our citizens from being implicated in drug-related crimes abroad through coordination with other agencies, while taking all the necessary steps to help overseas Koreans facing difficulties," spokesman Noh Kwang-il said.
The ministry and the consulates-general in Shenyang and Qingdao had repeatedly requested a delay of the executions from a "humanitarian standpoint" and given the growing international calls against the death penalty. But the amount of the trafficked drug appears to be the prime decisive factor behind the decision, officials here said.
Under Chinese law, making, carrying or selling 1 kilogram or more of opium and 50 grams or more of methamphetamine is punishable by property confiscation and 15 years to life in prison or death.
Currently some 20 other Koreans are on death row, mostly convicted of drug trafficking or murder. But the majority of them have been granted a reprieve, officials said.
China has executed several other foreigners convicted on drug charges in recent years. They include a Japanese and a Pakistani in 2014, a Filipino in 2013, four Filipinos in 2011, four Japanese in 2010 and a Briton in 2009.