Iran Resorts to Mass Executions to Deal with Its Drug Crisis

December 16, 2011

Arrest of drug offenders in Iran
Arrest of drug offenders in Iran.

Iran faces a drug abuse crisis of enormous proportions. It has an estimated 2 million or more addicts and users, remains the world’s largest market for opium, as well as other illegal drugs, and is a major conduit for drug trafficking from neighboring Afghanistan. Further compounding the problem is the high incidence of HIV/AIDS infections among intravenous drug users in Iran.

The Iranian government’s solution to the problem is predictably heavy-handed, as well as ineffectual: large-scale executions of those convicted of drug related offenses.

In recent years, Iran has enjoyed the dubious status of being the world’s “Number Two”—it executes the second highest number of people after China. But this year’s total of at least 600 executions and counting will vastly exceed even the numbers from the previous several years. And an astonishing 81% of those executed were convicted of drug offenses.

The staggering upswing in the numbers of executions for drug offenses in Iran is detailed in Amnesty International’s comprehensive new report Addicted to Death: Executions for Drugs Offences in Iran.

Amnesty International is opposed to executions under any circumstances. But many factors heighten the concern about the use of the death penalty for drug offenses in Iran. International standards require that executions can only be carried out against the most serious offenses, and then only after transparent and fair legal proceedings. As with those convicted and sentenced to death for other “crimes,” drug offenders are subjected to unfair trials without adequate legal representation and many are tortured and coerced into making confessions.

About 4,000 of those currently under sentence of death are Afghan nationals who are treated particularly harshly; many others come from other disadvantaged social groups. Several mass secret executions, such as those in Vakilabad Prison, have taken place without informing the families and lawyers as is required in theory by Iranian law. Sadly, at least two juveniles were executed for drug offenses in 2011. Iran is one of the only countries that continues to execute juvenile offenders.

Furthermore, according to Drs. Kamiar and Arash Alaei who have treated numerous HIV-infected addicts in Iran, many of those who are convicted and ultimately executed are not drug kingpins but rather small-time drug carriers, often young and desperate and trying to earn a little money for their families.

The executions haven’t even ameliorated the drug addiction and trafficking crisis in Iran; the incidence of addiction has continued to rise alongside the increased numbers of executions.

Earlier this year Amnesty reported on the Iranian government’s use of executions to address another social problem: a disturbing increase in the incidence of gang rapes of women. Three men had been publicly hanged in Kermanshah for rape on July 19th, presumably to set an example. But executions are not the answer to social ills. They just contribute to the further brutalization of society, and some would argue, even “soften” the public’s tolerance for executions for politically motivated “crimes”—which are also a phenomenon of concern. Drug abuse in Iran creates blighted lives and widespread misery; this misery is only compounded by the alarming slaughter taking place in Iran’s prisons.