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A Ho Chi Min City court has sentenced Nguyen Thi Huong, an Australian woman born in Vietnam, to death after finding her guilty of attempting to smuggle heroin out of the country.
The 73-year-old was arrested in December 2014, trying to board a flight to Sydney. Officials found 2.8 kilograms of heroin in her luggage, hidden in 36 bars of soap. Anyone caught smuggling 100 grams or more of heroin in Vietnam, faces the country's strictly enforced death penalty by lethal injection.
Huong reportedly told police she was given the soap as a gift by a Thai woman, known only to her as "Helen." However, the court found the 73-year-old had failed to prove Helen's existence and ruled her crime was "extremely dangerous to the community."
The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting that Huong "broke down in court and claimed she did not know the drugs were inside the soap." She also told the judge she wasn't expected to live long.
In a statement to media, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it was aware of the outcome of Huong's case. "We are concerned that an Australian citizen has been sentenced to death in Vietnam," it said. "We will continue to provide consular assistance and support to the woman and her family."
The news comes just a week after Australia's Special Envoy for Human Rights, Philip Ruddock, traveled with Australian Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs to the World Congress Against the Death Penalty.
"There is no place for the death penalty in the modern world. The death penalty is cruel and inhumane. Miscarriages of justice can result in the inadvertent execution of innocents: minorities and the poor are disproportional victims," the Australian Government said in a statement announcing the trip.
"Australia recognizes that the path to abolishing the death penalty is not always politically or legislatively easy. But we welcome positive movement to our ultimate goal, a world without the death penalty."
The number of executions has been falling Vietnam, from as many as 25 in 2007. Last year, the number of offenses punishable by death was reduced from 22 to 15. Huong will be the first known person killed under the death penalty since the country ended its policy of death by firing squad in 2014. Amnesty International reports there are currently 684 prisoners on death row in Vietnam.