Two foreign drug smugglers face Vietnam death penalty

HANOI - A Thai drug smuggler has been sentenced to death in Vietnam, state media said Wednesday, the second such penalty given to a foreigner within a week in the communist country.

A court in Vietnam, whose drug laws are among the toughest in the world, sentenced Suracha Chaimongkol to death after she was caught carrying two kilograms (4.4 pounds) of cocaine, the official Thanh Nien newspaper said.

The drugs were discovered hidden inside two photograph albums when the 31-year-old graduate landed at Ho Chi Minh City's airport in October last year after taking a flight from Brazil.

On Monday state media said a 31-year-old Nigerian man was sentenced to death by the same court in the southern business hub for smuggling 3.4 kilograms of methamphetamines from Qatar to Vietnam.

Vietnam takes a hardline on drugs and anyone found guilty of attempting to smuggle more than 100 grams of heroin or cocaine can face the death penalty. Convictions and sentences are revealed only by local media which is strictly under state control in the communist nation.

Suracha told the court she did not know she was carrying the drugs, but said she had been paid to bring the photograph albums to Vietnam, according to the Thanh Nien report.

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 in August.

The country currently has more than 586 prisoners on death row, at least 117 of whom meet all the criteria for immediate execution, media reports have said.

Although the country does not release statistics on executions, rights group Amnesty International recorded five executions in 2011 and said 23 new death sentences were handed out that year, mainly to drug traffickers.

Foreigners frequently fall foul of the nation's stiff drug laws.

In June last year, a Thai design student was handed a death penalty for trafficking three kilos of methamphetamine, while in October, a 61-year-old Filipina received the death penalty for smuggling five kilograms of methamphetamines.