Five Indians arrested in China for alleged involvement in two cases of drug trafficking could face life imprisonment or even death sentence, say lawyers.
The accused, who hail from Kidderpore in Kolkata, have been identified as Sheikh Ahmad Ali (46), Akrar Khan (33), Feroz Khan (31), Sheikh Ismail (24) and Maqsud Alam (24). Ismail is a student of Syamaprasad College in Kolkata.
They have denied knowledge about 24 kg of hashish found hidden in their laptop bags and packets of snacks. They were on their way to Shenzhen in southeastern China, an industrial and trade city that links Hong Kong to China's mainland.
According to legal protocol, Indian diplomats in China will be able to meet the accused on Sept. 21 and till then they will not be allowed to get in touch with their families.
Punishment, according to the law in China, is stricter when the quantity seized is large as that indicates the intent to sell. Cases involving drug lords, professional drug dealers or re-offenders may invite capital punishment in serious cases.
Death sentence may also be used to punish drug smuggling, organised transnational drug crime and armed or violent drug crime, according to Chinese news agency Xinhua.
Last year, the Supreme People's Court (SPC) had also issued a circular emphasising that death penalty should be used to punish drug crime.
"It is a very serious offence. According to the law, any deals related to the sales of marijuana over one kg could attract a punishment of a jail term of 15 years," Shanghai-based lawyer Wang Chune was quoted as saying by Hindustan Times. But the quantity involved makes the five suspects vulnerable to harsher punishment, she added.
Beijing-based criminal lawyer Zhang Liwen, who handles drug-related cases, also agreed with Wang. "The punishment is likely to be 15 years imprisonment, life sentence or death penalty â€“ death sentence is possible," Zhang said, adding that the results of the suspects being administered drug tests being found negative will be of little help to them.
"Whether these suspects took drugs or not will have no influence on their sentencing and judgment," Zhang added.
Zhang also highlighted that Chinese law doesn't discriminate between Chinese nationals and foreigners and the same laws will apply to the Indians. There have been past precedents of foreign nationals being executed for drug related offences in China, including five nationals from Philippines, six from Japan and one man from Britain.