(IPS) Iran Executes Hundreds in “War on Drugs”

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This article first appeared on the Inter-Press Service website at: http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=56248.

ATLANTA, Georgia, U.S., Jun 27, 2011 (IPS) – Iran is drawing international criticism for its continued mass executions of people convicted of violating its drug laws. The Islamic Republic’s judiciary reported that 300 people were on death row as of May 30.

“For 300 drug-related convicts, including those who were in possession of at least 30 grammes of heroin, execution verdicts have been issued,” said Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, Tehran’s prosecutor- general, according to the Sharq daily newspaper.

The Iranian government has already hanged 126 people for drug offences, despite the lack of heroin addiction treatment options, so far this year, as of May 30, according to Hands Off Cain, a death penalty abolition organisation.

Iran executed 650 people in 2010, 590 of whom were convicted for drug offences, according to the United Kingdom Foreign & Commonwealth Office 2010 report on Human Rights and Democracy. This was up from 388 in 2009.

“Estimates suggest that Iran executes more people per capita than any other country in the world. The year 2010 saw a steep increase in the number of executions in response to a tough new anti-drugs policy,” the report states.

“We’ve seen a huge surge in numbers being reported by the government, we’re not sure whether they’re the actual numbers,” Faraz Sanei, Iran and Bahrain researcher with Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division, told IPS.

Some of the executions have been recent. Iran executed Esmaeel G., Hossein N., Hasan Q., and Hasan K. for drug offences on Jun. 1, according to Iran’s justice department website.

On Jun. 19, two men – Siah Khan Sh. and Mohammad N. – were hanged for drug-related convictions, according to the Ettelaat newspaper of Iran.

The executions are most often carried out by hanging, although another common method is firing squad. Iran’s method of hanging, called suspension strangulation, is particularly cruel and involves strangulating someone by pulling them upward with a crane.

“The number of executions in Iran is high because 74 percent of those executed are traffickers in large quantities of opium from Afghanistan bound for European markets,” Mohammad Javad Larijani, head of Iran’s Supreme Council for Human Rights, said during a press conference in May.

The press conference followed a meeting with South African Deputy Foreign Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim, at which South Africa criticised the sentences.

It is not disputed that Iran has some serious problems with drugs and drug trafficking. Many Iranians have addiction problems with heroin and opium, while some have reportedly turned to making chemical drugs in their homes.

In addition, “Iran is dealing with a problem of armed drug trafficking gangs from Afghanistan, paramilitaries. There have been levels of violence between traffickers and government forces,” Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, told IPS.

Still, “that is no reason to move forward with the hanging of 300 people, not people who are drug lords. Essentially people get caught up in low-level drug offences,” Nadelmann said.

Larijani defended Iran during the press conference.

“There is an easy way for Iran and that is to close our eyes so drug traffickers can just pass through Iran to anywhere they want to go,” Larijani said. “The number of executions in Iran would drop 74 percent. That would be very good for our reputation.”

But Nadelmann said, “The Iranians are being disingenuous when they say there’s a requirement to execute people because of Western law.”

Iran may be in violation of international law, specifically the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of which Iran is a signatory, Sanei argued. The ICCPR says the death penalty, if not abolished entirely, should be reserved for the most serious and grave offences.

“Look at the Iranian penal code. A whole host of crimes can get you the death penalty. A large number of these crimes would not be considered by human rights lawyers to be serious,” Sanei said.

“One of those are drug offences… many of the individuals on death row in Iran are essentially on death row for drug possession,” Sanei said, adding, “The amount of drug required under Iranian law to get you the death penalty is very small.”

“The judiciary is extremely nontransparent in Iran. We don’t believe these individuals have fair trials. In particular with drug laws in Iran, there’s been a streamlining process in last several years which allows, when they get someone for drug trafficking, it’s not appealable. It goes back to the prosecutor’s office, that’s the person who decides if they should be executed or not. This completely violates international trial standards,” Sanei said, adding that access to attorneys is often also a problem.

At the same time that Iran has taken increasingly severe approach in sentencing those convicted of violating drug laws, it also had embraced a public health or harm reduction approach in terms of needle exchange programmes.

“Five years ago the Ayatollah declared needle exchange programmes okay under Sharia law,” Nadelmann said, adding that the decision was in part out of concern for preventing the spread of HIV.

“Because of the growing totalitarian nature of the Ajmadinejad government, there has been less support for harm reduction, but it still continues,” Nadelmann said.

Meanwhile, India’s Supreme Court announced last week that the death penalty for drug related offences was unconstitutional.

(END / 2011)

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