China broadcast the final moments of four foreign drug traffickers yesterday, right before they were put to death by lethal injection for the 2011 killings of 13 Chinese fisherman.

The coverage, which lasted almost two hours, showed the prisoners being led from their cells to a final check-up by a doctor. Commentators for CCTV (the state television network) remarked, "From the appearance of these criminals, you can clearly tell our prison has carried out humanitarian spirit. These criminals clearly look healthier ... with better skin complexion than when they were arrested." The drug traffickers were the subject of a multinational manhunt which ultimately led to their arrest in Laos last spring.

The coverage, which did not show the actual injections, but did include live images of the prisoners just minutes before their death, drew criticism from human rights advocates. Prominent blogger lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan (who defended Ai Weiwei) wrote, "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."

China executes 4,000 prisoners a year, although coverage of this kind is unprecedented. In an interview this week, also broadcast on Chinese television, trafficker ringleader Naw Kham said, "I am afraid of death. I want to live. I don't want to die. I have children. I am afraid."

State officials confirmed his death by lethal injection yesterday afternoon.