Six Men Executed for Drug Offences in Iran, Despite Legal Reform

At least six men have been hanged for drug offences in Iran since late April, raising concerns about a “new wave of drug-related executions” in a country that recently legislated to reduce the punishment.

On April 27, Kamal Shahbakhs was hanged at Kerman Central Prison for drug offences after having spent six years in prison. The next day, 24-year-old Mohammad Bameri was executed at the same prison. A local activist described Bameria as "a poor student who had [sold drugs] to earn some money for his college expenses. His execution made his family’s condition even worse.”

Then, on May 9, four men were hanged at Arak Central prison for drug offences: Hamidreza Hosseinkhani, Majid Kazemi, Mohammad Hemmati, and Mohammad Davoudabadi.

Between 2008 and 2018, Iran executed at least 3,975 people for drug offences - according to a report by Harm Reduction International. However, the number of executions for drug offences dropped by 90 per cent between 2017 and 2018, following an amendment to the country’s drug legislation.

As TalkingDrugs has previously reported, the 2017 amendment raised the threshold quantity of drugs needed for a person to be eligible for capital punishment. For heroin and cocaine, the quantity needed to be possessed to allow the death penalty rose from 30 grams to two kilograms. For cannabis, the quantity rose from five kilograms to 50 kilograms.

The amendment was retroactive, so thousands of prisoners on death row are likely to be spared following a review of their case.

Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, spokesperson for the Iran Human Rights (IHR) non-profit, praised the amendment: “This is probably the most significant step towards limitation in the use of the death penalty in the history of the Islamic Republic and probably 2018’s most significant change in death penalty trends worldwide. We hope it is the first step of many that the Iranian authorities must take in order to improve their dark human rights record”.

While authorities have not confirmed any of the deceased’s specific offences, there are several drug-related activities that retain the death penalty as punishment, regardless of the quantities involved. These include possessing or using a gun while drug trafficking, and encouraging children to participate in trafficking. Additionally, anyone who has previously been sentenced to death or over 15 years in prison for drug offences is eligible for execution if convicted for any subsequent drug offence.

IHR have expressed dismay at the recent executions, stating that they “raise concerns about a new wave of drug-related executions in Iran”.