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Iran Executes 10 People for Drug Offences in One Week

At least ten people were reportedly executed for drug offences in Iran last week, despite authorities having publicly questioned the rationale behind executing people for such crimes.

According to Iran Human Rights, a non-profit organisation, a total of ten men were executed for drug offences at a variety of prisons around the country in the first week of 2017. However, there has been no official confirmation from state media or the government.

There are 17 offences that carry the death penalty under Iran’s 2011 Anti-Narcotics Law, Amnesty International reports. Perhaps one of the law’s strictest stipulations is that the death penalty may be applied for the possession of more than 30 grams of heroin, morphine, cocaine, or crystal meth – unless it is the individual's first offence.

The numbers of people being executed in Iran, and the proportion being executed for drug offences, have been increasing in recent years.

In 2013, 331 (48 per cent) of Iran’s 687 executions were for drug offences. The following year, 397 (49 per cent) of the 753 executions were for drug offences.

There was a staggering rise in 2015, when 638 (66 per cent) of Iran’s 969 executions were for drug offences.

Last October, several high-profile authorities – including the justice minister – offered a glimmer of hope to people currently on death row by denouncing the use of capital punishment for people who commit non-violent drug offences. However, no concrete policy changes have passed through the country’s cumbersome legislative process as yet, so executions are continuing unabated.

On January 2, Nosrat Khazai was hanged in Qazvin province after having spent five years in prison for trafficking one kilogram of crystal meth.  Neither Khazai nor his family were notified in advance that his execution was going to take place, despite family members having visited him one day earlier.

Four men were reportedly executed on January 3, and four on January 4; all eight had been convicted for drug-related offences and had been held in one of two prisons in the northern city of Karaj.

Karaj gained international notoriety last year when a visiting UN representative condemned the city's Revolutionary Court for issuing death sentences for drug offences in trials "that not only breach international fair trial standards but even domestic due process guarantees”.

Another man, Mohammad Zebardast, was hanged in Gilan province on January 4, over four years after being sentenced to death for trafficking crystal meth and opium.

These executions bring the total number of people executed by Iranian authorities in the first week of 2017 to 16, according to Iran Manif, a pro-democracy French-language publication.

The Financial Tribune, a non-governmental Tehran-based newspaper, reported last month that there are around 5,000 “drug dealers” on death row, “90 per cent of whom are first-time offenders between 20 and 30 years of age”.

As TalkingDrugs reported, the Iranian justice minister, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, said in October that he sought "to find the most effective kind of punishment” so that he could “consider replacing execution" in most cases.

Yahya Kamalpur, the Deputy Head of the Legal and Judicial Committee, called for an evidence-based – rather than emotion-based – response, arguing that executing people who smuggle drugs “will not benefit the people or the country”.

In addition, the Iranian parliament agreed in November to speed up legislative deliberation on an amendment that would restrict the application of the death penalty for drug offences to people who were "drug lords”, “armed traffick[ers]”, “repeat offenders”, or “bulk drug distributors”.

However, without clarification of who would fall into these categories, it is uncertain whether the amendment – which would also need to be approved by the hard-line Guardian Council of Islamic Jurists – would have an effect on the number of people being executed.

Until clear policy reform takes place, thousands of lives continue to be at risk, including twelve prisoners in Karaj who are expected to be executed this week for drug offences.

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