Rising numbers of people who use drugs suggest a need for a more subtle policy

29 Mar 2019

little over 20 years ago, when he was still a teenager, Lin Guangpeng tried heroin that his friends had brought to a party near his home in the south-western province of Yunnan. Soon addicted, Mr Lin—not his real name—spent many of the subsequent years behind bars, including several long stretches in detention centres for drug users. He says wardens in these “compulsory isolation detoxification” facilities put him to work in prison factories. Such places are meant to heal your body, he says (inmates are pictured exercising). But they “damage your soul”.


China is tough on drugs. Many traffickers are among the thousands of people executed annually. Sometimes they are paraded beforehand at public sentencing rallies. Attendees at these grim spectacles include busloads of schoolchildren. Drug users may be punished on the spot by police. Many are locked up in centres like the ones where Mr Lin was sent, often for stretches of two to three years without trial. In 2017 about 320,000 people spent time in such camps, says China’s anti-narcotics agency. That is about 36,000 fewer than in 2016 but about 120,000 more than in 2012.

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