Skip to main content
Amnesty International UK
Log in

Iran: at least 173 people executed for drugs offences so far this year

Prisons turned into killing fields as drug-related executions almost triple this year 


Overall, at least 282 people executed so far in 2023, including five for protesting


‘The judges in Revolutionary Courts will ask if the drugs are yours and it makes no difference if you say yes or no’ - death row prisoner 


The Iranian authorities have executed at least 173 people convicted of drug-related offences so far this year - all after systematically unfair trials - nearly three times more than this time last year, Amnesty International said today. 


Executions for drug-related offences make up two-thirds of all executions carried out in Iran in the first five months of 2023 and have predominantly impacted people from marginalised and economically-disadvantaged backgrounds who are often unaware of their rights and cannot afford independent legal representation (see testimonies below).


Families of those executed have been left to struggle with the often dire economic consequences of losing breadwinners and being heavily indebted through legal fees. 


Drug-related executions have typically followed heavily-flawed investigations by Iran’s anti-narcotics police and other security bodies. Trials for drug-related offences are held before Revolutionary Courts and are systematically unfair, with detainees denied due process rights, including access to legal representation, and with torture-tainted “confessions” frequently used as evidence to convict them. 


Amnesty has also found that members of Iran’s persecuted and impoverished Baluchi ethnic minority account for around 20% of the recorded executions despite making up only five per cent of the Iranian population. 


The Iranian authorities have also significantly increased the number of total executions for all crimes, with at least 282 people executed this year - nearly double the number of executions recorded at the same time last year. So far this year, five people have been executed in relation to protests, a man was executed for “adultery” for having consensual sexual relations with a married woman, and two social media users were executed for charges including “apostasy” and “insulting the Prophet”. 


Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director, said:

“The shameless rate at which the authorities are carrying out drug-related executions, in violation of international law, exposes their lack of humanity and flagrant disregard for the right to life. 


“The international community must ensure that cooperation in anti-drug trafficking initiatives do not contribute, directly or indirectly, to the arbitrary deprivation of life and other human rights violations in Iran. 


“States and intergovernmental bodies must condemn the Iranian authorities, in the strongest terms, for these arbitrary executions, call for an official moratorium on all executions, send representatives to visit prisoners sentenced to death, and seek attendance at trials involving capital crimes.”

Testimonies of those caught up in wave of death sentences

The relative of a prisoner currently on death row who was the breadwinner of her family prior to imprisonment, told Amnesty:

“She never saw her court-appointed lawyer. He gave the family false promises that he would have her death sentence overturned if they paid him an extortionate amount of money. They sold everything they had to pay him, even their sheep. Once he took their money, he disappeared and left the family with a lot of debt.”

One death row prisoner told Amnesty:

“The judges in Revolutionary Courts will ask if the drugs are yours and it makes no difference if you say yes or no. The judge at my trial told me to be quiet when I said the drugs were not mine. He said my sentence was death and ordered me to sign a document accepting it. He didn’t even allow my lawyer to speak in my defence.”

The teenage son of a prisoner executed for drug-related offences told Amnesty:

“I should be worried about my exams like other children - not going to work. My wages do not cover my family’s necessities because of all the loans we have. I don’t even have the money to cover my school registration for next year. If my father hadn’t been executed, I would be thinking about my future right now, not thinking of how to make money for my family.”

The security forces have added to the anguish of prisoners’ families by violently suppressing peaceful demonstrations held outside prisons where executions are scheduled, with protesters reporting the use by the security services of teargas and live ammunition. 

View latest press releases