National News

Actor is latest Chinese celeb detained for drugs

By Louise Watt, The Associated Press

BEIJING - An actor has become the latest Chinese celebrity to face drug charges in a wave of detentions that an official said Wednesday is one of China's sternest crackdowns on illegal drug use in two decades.

Gao Hu, 40, who had a small part as a soldier in Zhang Yimou's 2011 movie "The Flowers of War," was detained by police for possession and use of marijuana and methamphetamine, the official Xinhua News Agency said. Beijing police also announced the Tuesday detention in a brief statement.

Several celebrities have been detained on drug charges following a declaration in June by President Xi Jinping that illegal drugs should be wiped out and that offenders would be severely punished.

Illegal drug use has ballooned in China in recent decades, after being virtually eradicated following the 1949 communist revolution. Narcotics began to reappear with the loosening of social controls in the late 1980s. In more recent years, rising wealth and greater personal freedoms have been accompanied by a growing popularity of methamphetamines and the party drugs Ecstasy and ketamine. They are often bought on social media forums and consumed in nightclubs, leading to periodic police crackdowns.

The number of officially registered addicts in China was 1.8 million at the end of 2011. That is about one-tenth the number of Americans seeking treatment for drug problems each year.

In June, Beijing police said they detained screenwriter and novelist Chen Wanning, whose pen name is Ning Caishen, for possession of drugs in an apartment in Beijing. He tested positive for methamphetamine, a stimulant, they said.

That same month, film director Zhang Yuan, who made the 2006 film "Little Red Flowers" set in post-revolutionary China, was detained for drug offences at a Beijing railway station after he tried to evade a random drug check, according to a report on the Beijing police's microblog.

Both received administrative detention, which is a maximum of 15 days.

Pi Yijun, an anti-drug adviser for the Beijing government, said the drug crackdown is one of China's biggest in two decades.

He said demand for methamphetamines has spiked for people under age 35, and that it has become easy to obtain. Pi said police were relying heavily on informants to identify users, who are then targeted by officers in drug test sweeps.

"This new type of drug is making it more difficult for the police to identify users because when they come into a club, everybody can be suspicious, not just a few people. It would be too costly to test everyone. So they mainly rely on whistleblowers," Pi said.

Courts sentenced 39,762 people for drug-related offences in the first five months of 2014, up more than a quarter from the previous year, according to the Supreme People's Court.

Police said they detained Gao, who starred this year in the Hong Kong film "The Man from Macao," along with three others and seized about seven grams of marijuana and one gram of methamphetamine.

Liu Yuejin, director general of the Public Security Ministry's Narcotics Control Bureau, said last year that while most users of heroin and opium are peasants and unemployed people, the users of newer drugs such as methamphetamine and ketamine are from a more diverse background, including entrepreneurs, celebrities and sports stars.

"When it comes to new types of drugs, the momentum is growing, like the situation in many countries of the world," he told a news conference. "The use and the selling of new types of drugs is on an upward trajectory."

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Associated Press writer Christopher Bodeen and news assistant Zhao Liang contributed to this report.

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