Iran: New report reveals surge in secret executions for drugs offences

‘To try to contain their immense drug problem, the Iranian authorities have carried out a killing spree of staggering proportions’ - Ann Harrison

This year has seen a dramatic rise in the number of people executed for drug offences in Iran, Amnesty International said today in a new report.

In its 44-page report, Addicted to Death: Executions for Drug Offences in Iran , the organisation said that at least 488 people have been executed for alleged drug offences so far in 2011, a nearly threefold increase on the 2009 figures, when Amnesty recorded some 166 executions for similar offences.

Amnesty says that during the middle of 2010 it began to receive credible reports that a new wave of drug offence executions was taking place. These included reports of secret mass executions at Vakilabad Prison in Mashhad, with one - on 4 August 2010 - involving over 89 individuals. The Iranian authorities officially acknowledged 253 executions in 2010, of which 172 were for drug offences - almost 68% of the total - but Amnesty received credible reports of a further 300 executions, the vast majority believed to be for drug-related offences.

In 2011, taking together both official and unofficial sources, it is believed that there have now been at least 600 executions (up to the end of November), with around 81% for drug-related offences. The organisation called on the Iranian authorities to end the use of the death penalty against those accused of drug offences.

In most cases executions have followed grossly unfair trials, and the families and lawyers of those accused have often received little or no warning that executions were imminent. Members of marginalised groups - including impoverished communities, ethnic minorities suffering discrimination, and foreign nationals, particularly Afghans - are most at risk of execution for drugs offences. Afghan nationals appear to be particularly poorly treated by Iran’s justice system and as many as 4,000 Afghans could be on death row for drugs offences. Amnesty has received reports of some Afghans being executed without even a trial, these apparently only learning of their impending execution from the prison authorities.

Meanwhile, Amnesty continues to receive reports of executions of child offenders for alleged drug-related offences, despite Iranian officials claiming that these no longer take place in the country.

Amnesty International Interim Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Ann Harrison said: “To try to contain their immense drug problem, the Iranian authorities have carried out a killing spree of staggering proportions, when there is no evidence that execution prevents drug smuggling any more effectively than imprisonment.

"Drug offences go much of the way to accounting for the steep rise in executions we have seen in the last 18 months.

“Ultimately Iran must abolish the death penalty for all crimes, but stopping the practice of executing drug offenders, which violates international law, would as a first step cut the overall number significantly.”

Iran has the fourth highest rate of drug-related deaths in the world, at 91 per one million people aged 15-64, and the country is a major international transit route for drug smuggling.

In recent years Iran has received international assistance, including from several European countries and the United Nations, to help stem the flow of drugs across its borders. The European Union is providing 9.5 million Euros over three years for an Iran-based project to strengthen regional anti-narcotics cooperation. The project involves German Federal Police support for the establishment of forensic laboratories in the region.

The UN Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has provided up to £14 million since 2005 to support training projects for Iran's counter-narcotics forces. Belgium, France, Ireland and Japan have all previously contributed to a UNODC sniffer dog programme. The UNODC has also provided drug detection kits to Iran. Norway, Denmark and Germany have committed to providing funding between 2011 and 2014 to support UNODC’s programme of technical cooperation on drugs and crime in Iran.

The UN programme is supposed to include work to promote reform in the Iranian justice system to help bring it into line with international standards, but during a July 2011 visit to Iran UNODC’s Executive Director praised Iran's counter-narcotics work without mentioning the increasing application of the death penalty for drugs offences.

Ann Harrison added: “All countries and international organisations helping the Iranian authorities arrest more people for alleged drugs offences need to take a long hard look at the potential impact of that assistance and what they could do to stop this surge of executions.

“They cannot simply look the other way while hundreds of impoverished people are killed each year without fair trials, many only learning their fates a few hours before their deaths.”

  • Download report: Addicted to Death: Executions for Drug Offences in Iran /li>

Cases and places

Haj Basir Ahmed: a 40-year-old Afghan national who was apparently executed for drug smuggling in Taybad prison on 15 September 2011.

A relative of his told Amnesty that he believed Ahmed had never appeared in a court. He said that Ahmed had been arrested on the border, following which they had no news of him for several years until his family discovered his whereabouts. He said the Afghan authorities had never contacted them about his case (it is not clear whether the Afghan authorities had been informed by Iranian officials that Ahmed was held in Iran). Ahmed phoned his family in Afghanistan on 15 September shortly after 8pm to say that he’d just been told that he would be executed at 9pm, which his family believes is what happened. No official acknowledgement of any executions in Taybad on that date was been made, although one human rights organisation has reported five executions in Taybad prison that day. Ahmed’s family say that the body was not returned to them, as the Iranian authorities demanded 200 million rials (approximately £10,000) for this; instead, he was buried in a cemetery in Taybad.

Mohammad Jangali: a 38-year-old trainee truck driver from the Kouresunni minority - a small community of Sunnis from the mainly Shi'a Azerbaijani minority - who was executed on 10 October 2011 after drugs were discovered in the truck he was driving near Oroumieh in 2008.

He is believed to have signed a coerced "confession" prepared by the Ministry of Intelligence after he was tortured. His family were given no information about the case by the authorities until they were contacted by the prison to say that he would be executed in eight hours and they should come now if they wanted to see him. He maintained until his death that he had not known that the truck contained drugs.

Vakilabad Prison: Amnesty has learnt that executions in Vakilabad Prison take place in a passageway between the cells and the visiting room. A long beam is said to have capacity for up to 60 nooses to be hung along its length, to allow mass executions to take place. Victims are reported to be made to stand on stools, the noose placed around their necks, and the stools kicked from under them.
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