On Friday, the state-run China Central Television broadcast a two-hour execution special covering the final moments of four drug traffickers convicted of murder. The incident has sparked wide debate across China and beyond, reports the LA Times, with some questioning the legality of the broadcast. "This carnival on CCTV was a violation not only of ethics, but of the criminal code regulations that the death penalty not be carried out in public," argued activist human rights lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan. However, the actual moments of execution — by lethal injection — were not shown.

The actual executions were not shown

The four men, including notorious Burmese drug lord Naw Kham, had been found guilty of the murder of 13 Chinese fishermen in 2011, and were caught after an exhaustive manhunt; at one point the group charged with Kham's arrest considered assassinating him with a drone attack in Burma.

The parading of the condemned criminals on live TV moments before their death appears to be a show of authority by China, designed to strengthen resolve in the judicial system. "From the appearance of these criminals, you can clearly tell our prison has carried out humanitarian spirit," said a TV commentator. "These criminals clearly look healthier ... with better skin complexion than when they were arrested."