An Australian woman of Vietnamese origin was sentenced to 20 years in prison Tuesday for trying to smuggle heroin in her underwear, state media reported. Lam Thi Kim Hong Hanh, 38, was caught with 376 grammes of the drug at Ho Chi Minh city’s Tan Son Nhat airport in December last year, the Cong An Nhan Dan newspaper reported on its website. Ms Hanh told the court she was planning to transport the drugs from Vietnam to Australia for a fee of AUS$5,000 (US$3,480).

The court in the southern Vietnamese city “sentenced her to 20 years imprisonment for the charge of illegal transport of drugs”, the Cong An Nhan Dan szid. Communist Vietnam has some of the world’s toughest drug laws. Anyone found guilty of possessing more than 600g of heroin, or more than 20 kilogrammes of opium, can face the death penalty. Convictions and sentences are usually revealed only by local media, which is strictly under state control.

The “Golden Triangle” region covering part of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand was once the world’s top source of opium but has been overtaken by Afghanistan. Vietnam has sentenced dozens of foreigners to death for drug offences — many of them Australian nationals of Vietnamese origin — but it has been decades since a foreign national was executed in the country.

The communist government also enforces compulsory “rehabilitation” programmes for the country’s estimated 140,000 drug addicts, which rights groups have strongly criticised, pointing to allegations of forced labour and abuse. Despite the harsh sentencing, drug smuggling and use is still commonplace.