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Bangladesh Plans Death Penalty for Selling Meth

Bangladeshi authorities have proposed an overhaul of the country’s drug laws, which includes provisions for people to be executed for selling methamphetamine.

The country's Department of Narcotic Control (DNC) has drafted new overarching drug legislation for the country, the Narcotics Control Act 2018, which would replace the existing Narcotics Control Act 1990. If this new Act is introduced, someone found producing or selling over 200 grams of methamphetamine – colloquially referred to as “yaba” – could face the death penalty. The current maximum penalty for such offences is 15 years imprisonment.

Speaking in early April, the DNC’s head Jamaluddin Ahmed said "we'll raise the punishment for yaba trafficking. In the new law the maximum punishment will be [the] death sentence", according to Agence France-Presse. He justified the draconian measure by referring to “a huge inflow of yaba from Myanmar” that authorities have been unable to contain, and which has resulted – he claims – in increased use.

Currently, the law allows for the death penalty to be imposed for other drug offences, including heroin trafficking, but it is very rare in practice. Bangladesh has not executed someone for a drug offence since 2009. A movement towards implementing capital punishment for certain drug offences began to grow in 2017, following an apparent rise in methamphetamine use and increasingly heated political discussions on the subject.

"Drug addiction … is turning in to a grave situation … The nation as a whole is in panic with the consequence of [the] increasing trend of using diversified additive [sic] items," a spokesperson for the DNC said in March 2017, "we need to do something drastic without any delay to come out from this evil situation. Otherwise, the whole nation may immediately start suffering so much [that it] will go beyond recovery and repair".

By July 2017, the Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal announced that the government would reclassify methamphetamine as a Class A, rather than Class B, drug – so that the death penalty could be applied for trafficking the substance.

Activists have expressed concern at these proposals, citing police corruption as a factor that could lead to people being falsely convicted of drug offences – and then executed by the state for a crime they did not commit. Human rights activist Nur Khan Liton said “On many occasions, members of police use narcotics as a means of amassing money from people illegally. In many cases, they do that by putting various drugs, including yaba pills, in people's pockets”.

Executing people for drug offences is a violation of international law. According to Article 6.2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: "In countries which have not abolished the death penalty, sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes". In 2017, following the execution of a man found in possession of heroin in Singapore, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that “'the most serious crimes' … has been interpreted to mean only crimes involving intentional killing”.

The Dhaka Tribune reports that the draft legislation is being reviewed by relevant ministers, before potentially being enacted in the coming months.

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