A court in Vietnam's northern province of Quang Ninh sentenced 30 people to death for heroin smuggling last month, in what was called the largest such trial ever held in the country -- both in terms of the number of defendants and of death sentences handed down. Dozens of others received prison terms from two years to life. In recognition of the sensitivity of the case, the trial was actually held at the provincial prison rather than a courtroom. Quang Ninh, bordering China, is a transit route between the inland opium-producing Golden Triangle and the South China Sea. (See map.)

According to last year's Amnesty International report, at least 86 people were sentenced to death in Vietnam in 2012, with more than 500 on death row. Vietnam's government recently asked the National Assembly to allow the use of execution by firing squad until 2015 in response to a European Union export ban on the chemicals needed for lethal injections. Isabelle Arradon, Amnesty International's deputy Asia-Pacific director, said: "It is extremely disappointing that Vietnam is yet again trying to find a way to kill, either by using domestically produced drugs or by reverting to an execution method the government itself has rejected as inhumane." 

This is part of a disturbing wave of execution sprees across Asia -- invariably in the name of fighting drugs and terrorism -- from Thailand to China to Iran to Iraq. And while the EU has taken a stand against the death penalty, the self-appointed "leader of the free world," the good ol' US of A, continues to be a global leader in state-sanctioned killing among industrialized nations. CNN reported in December that there were 39 executions in the US last year -- only the second time in a decade that the number fell below 40. And this was partially due to the fact that the US, like Vietnam, has been blacklisted by the European Union, the major producer of the chemicals used in lethal injections. The administrations in Austin (Texas leads the country, with 16 executions last year) and Ho Chi Minh City have something in common...