Four members of a drug trafficking gang have been executed in China following a live nationwide broadcast showing the men being led to their deaths.

Naw Kham, a Myanmar drug gang leader, and three of his accomplices were executed by lethal injection for the murder of 13 Chinese sailors as they sailed down the Mekong river through Myanmar in October 2011.

China Central Television carried live two-hour broadcast showing the grim faced men being led from their cells to the detention center shortly before they were executed. Naw Kham, described as “the boss of the largest armed drug trafficking gang”, managed to smile during the march towards his death, according to Xinhua news agency.

The broadcast was a response to widespread outrage across China after photographs of the gagged and blindfolded victims circulated online, AFP reports.

The footage drew mixed reactions. Some viewers said it emphasizes the efficiency of Chinese authorities and courts and serves as a warning to criminals, according to AP.

CCTV also defended the program, saying, “In contrast to brutal murder by his gang, the methodical court trial and humane injections have shown the dignity and civilizing effects of rule of law.”

Critics denounced the broadcast as displaying “state control over human life.”

“State-administered violence is no loftier than criminal violence,” said Han Youyi, a criminal law professor.

Nicholas Bequelin, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, called the live broadcast “an affront to human dignity.”

“There is no reason to turn an execution into this grotesque show and it actually detracts from the effective dispensation of justice…” he said.