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Trump “Most Excited” About China Executing People for Selling Fentanyl

President Trump has lauded the use of the death penalty for people convicted of drug offences, and claims to have convinced the Chinese president to execute people who sell fentanyl.

Speaking to journalists at the White House on February 15, Trump denounced the “tremendous amounts of fentanyl” – a powerful opioid drug – entering the US illegally from China. There were over 28,000 US deaths in 2017 linked to "synthetic narcotics", according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, with the majority of those being attributed to fentanyl. US authorities claim that most fentanyl in the US is smuggled from China.

“[Chinese] President Xi [Jinping] has agreed to put fentanyl on his list of deadly, deadly drugs, and it’s a criminal penalty. And the penalty is death”, Trump said. “And that’s frankly one of the things I’m most excited about in our trade deal.”

Trump has previously claimed, on Twitter in December 2018, that President Xi would introduce the death penalty for trafficking the drug, although the Chinese government did not explicitly state it would be doing so.

China regularly executes people for non-violent drug offences, but the state does not divulge the number of people it kills. In a 2018 report by Harm Reduction International – The Death Penalty for Drug Offences – it was noted that “statistics on death sentences and executions [in China] are considered so sensitive that they remain a State secret, which makes it impossible to know the true figure for the number of executions which take place each year”.

During his White House speech, Trump suggested the US has a soft touch approach to drug offences, and that executing people who sell drugs would end drug use “a lot faster than you think”.

“Their criminal list, a drug dealer gets a thing called the death penalty”, he said. “Our criminal list, a drug dealer gets a thing called ‘how about a fine?’”.

Contrary to Trump’s statement, selling drugs – even in small quantities – is punishable by lengthy prison sentences across the US. Of the estimated 2.3 million people incarcerated in the US justice system, around one in five (around 456,000) are imprisoned for non-violent drug offences. The US is also one of 33 countries that maintains the death penalty for drug offences on the statute books, although it has yet to execute someone for such a crime.

Trump’s longstanding support for executing people for drug offences has garnered widespread criticism from human rights groups, not least because it is illegal under international law.

Executing people for drug offences is a violation of 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".  The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has stated that “'the most serious crimes' … has been interpreted to mean only crimes involving intentional killing”.

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