Hangings could go ahead despite international ban on executions for drugs offences
Iran executed hundreds of prisoners during 2016, the majority for drugs offences
Iran should immediately halt the execution of 12 men convicted of drug offences who all face being put to death tomorrow (14 January) in Karaj Central Prison, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have warned.
On 8 January, officials at the prison, in Alborz province, west of Tehran, transferred at least 12 people sentenced to death on drug charges to solitary confinement, notifying them that their execution was imminent. In the event, the executions were postponed due to the death of Iran’s former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
HRW and Amnesty have been able to confirm the identities of four of the 12: Ali Mohammad Lorestani, Mohammad Soleimani, Ali Ebadi and Majid Badrlou (see case details below). Sources familiar with these men’s cases said that they didn’t have access to a lawyer during interrogations, and that the verdicts for Lorestani, Soleimani and Ebadi were based on other prisoners’ confessions.
Iran’s drug law mandates the death penalty for the trafficking, possession, or trade of as little as 30 grams of synthetic drugs such as heroin, morphine, cocaine, or their chemical derivatives.
In December 2015, Iranian MPs submitted a proposal to eliminate the death penalty for drug offences, except for armed smuggling, but this failed to progress. In November 2016, separate draft legislation - weaker than the 2015 proposal - was put forward which only forbids the use of the death penalty in non-violent drug offences and maintains several categories of drug offences that will still attract the death penalty. The draft bill is currently under consideration by several parliamentary commissions.
Iran executed hundreds of people in 2016, the majority for drug offences. According to Hassan Noroozi, an Iranian member of parliament, there are 5,000 people on death row for drug offences in Iran, the majority between the ages of 20 and 30.
HRW and Amnesty have repeatedly documented serious due process and fair trial violations in Iran - including the use of torture and summary trials - in capital drug cases. The two organisations are calling on Iran to reverse these 12 death sentences ahead of a total abolition of the death penalty in the country.
Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director Philip Luther said:
“Carrying out these executions would be particularly tragic given ongoing discussions in the Iranian parliament that could lead to the abolition of the death penalty for non-violent drug offences.”
Human Right Watch’s Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson said:
“Packing prisons with drug offenders and rushing to send them to death row without due process in highly flawed trials will just worsen Iran’s justice problem while doing nothing to solve Iran’s drug problem.”
Mohammad Soleimani’s case
The Iranian authorities arrested Mohammad Soleimani - a father of three from the city of Kermanshah - in the city of Karaj in March 2015 in connection with the alleged possession of between 700 and 800 grams of heroin. HRW and Amnesty have communicated with an informed source who said that Soleimani was not in possession of any drugs at the time of his arrest. According to the source, his sentence was based on the confessions of two men who implicated Soleimani after they themselves were caught in possession of drugs. Another informed source said that the Supreme Court quashed Soleimani’s death sentence in July 2016 and granted him a retrial. However, he was later re-sentenced to death after a summary retrial which was limited to one brief session before a revolutionary court in Karaj. In a second review of Soleimani’s case the Supreme Court rejected his appeal and upheld the death sentence.
Ali Mohammad Lorestani’s case
Sources close to Ali Mohammad Lorestani told HRW that the authorities in Alborz province arrested him in October 2012, detaining him for at least 18 days at a police detention centre and interrogating him without access to legal counsel. “His family had no idea where the authorities took [him],” a source said. “One of his fingers was broken when he was transferred to prison.”
Majid Badrlou’s case
The authorities arrested Majid Badrlou, a 29-year-old taxi driver, and seized 990 grams of heroin from his car on 15 July 2011. A source familiar with his case told HRW that Badrlou did not appeal, as he feared it would worsen the legal outcome. The source also reported that “the authorities severely beat Badrlou when he was detained for interrogation at Iran’s Drug Control Office’s detention centre.”
UN prohibition on drugs executions
The UN Human Rights Committee has said that a death sentence passed after an unfair proceeding violates both the right to life and the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Even in countries that retain the death penalty, international human rights law states that the use of death penalty should be limited to the “most serious crimes” - crimes involving intentional killing - which does not include drug offences.