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(New York) -- This year has seen a dramatic rise in the number of people – many impoverished and some juveniles – who are executed for drug offenses in Iran, Amnesty International said today in a new report which urges a hard look at the consequences of United Nations and other anti-narcotics programs in the region.
In the 44-page Addicted to Death: Executions for Drug Offenses in Iran, the organization finds that at least 488 people have been executed for alleged drug offenses so far in 2011, a nearly threefold increase over the 2009 figures, when Amnesty International recorded at least 166 executions for similar offenses.
In total Amnesty International has documented some 600 executions reported by both official and unofficial sources this year, with drug offenses accounting for about 81 percent of the total. The organization called on the Iranian authorities to end the use of the death penalty against those accused of drug offenses.
"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," said Ann Harrison, Amnesty International's interim Middle East and North Africa deputy director.
"Drug offenses go much of the way to accounting for the steep rise in executions we have seen in the last 18 months," said Harrison. "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."
Amnesty International urged all countries and international organizations such as the United Nations -- which are helping the Iranian authorities arrest more people for alleged drugs offenses -- to take a long hard look at the potential impact of that assistance and what they could do to stop this surge of executions. Harrison said: "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."
Amnesty International said that during the middle of 2010, it began to receive credible reports that a new wave of executions for drug offenses was taking place. These included reports of secret mass executions at Vakilabad Prison in Mashhad, with one - on August 4, 2010 - involving over 89 individuals.
The Iranian authorities officially acknowledged 253 executions in 2010, of which 172 were for drug offenses – almost 68% of the total – but Amnesty International received credible reports of a further 300 executions, the vast majority believed to be for drug-related offenses.
In almost all 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 due to take place. Members of marginalized groups - including impoverished communities, ethnic minorities that suffer discrimination, and foreign nationals, particularly Afghans - are most at risk of execution for drugs offenses.
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 - was executed on October 10, 2011, after the truck he was driving was found with drugs in it 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 was 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.
Amnesty International said there may be as many as 4,000 Afghan nationals on death row for drugs offenses. They appear to be particularly poorly treated by the justice system. The organization said it had received reports of some Afghans who have been executed without being brought to trial at all, and only learnt of their impending executions from prison authorities.
Amnesty International continues to hear of executions of juvenile offenders for alleged drug-related offenses, despite Iranian officials claiming that these are no long taking place.
Iran has the fourth highest rate of drug-related deaths in the world, at 91 per 1 million people aged 15-64, and 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 $12.5 million 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 United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has provided up to $22 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 program. 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 program of technical cooperation on drugs and crime in Iran.
The U.N. program is supposed to include work to promote reform in the Iranian justice system to help bring it in line with international standards. But in 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 offenses.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.