Iran Hangs Nine Convicted Drug Traffickers

Iran is one of the worst places in the world to get caught selling drugs, and 2023 has been a particularly deadly year in the Middle Eastern country for convicted drug traffickers with another slough of executions reported this week.

Nine convicted drug traffickers have been recently hanged in Iran, according to several middle eastern news sources all citing the Islamic Republic News Agency.

Details on the matter were sparse, but it appeared that three drug traffickers were hanged at a prison in the northwest Iranian province of Ardabil on charges of buying and transporting heroin and opium. Iran is located more or less dead center on a major opium smuggling route between Afghanistan and Europe which has led to sky-high rates of opiate addiction in the area.

The other six convicted traffickers were executed separately for trafficking charges related to methamphetamine, heroin and cannabis though it was unclear if all six were charged for all three substances. 

Iran has some of the harshest penalties in the world for drug dealing and executions. A Reuters article from July of this year reported that Iran had executed 20 drug traffickers in one day. Figures released in June by Amnesty International, a United Kingdom-based human rights advocacy group, reported that Iran had executed 173 people for drug-related offenses and 282 people total in the first half of 2023 after what they described as “systematically unfair trials.”

“The shameless rate at which the authorities are carrying out drug-related executions, in violation of international law, exposes their lack of humanity and flagrant disregard for the right to life. The international community must ensure that cooperation in anti-drug trafficking initiatives do not contribute, directly or indirectly, to the arbitrary deprivation of life and other human rights violations in Iran,” said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

The same report from Amnesty International said that around 20 percent of executions in Iran targeted a community known as the Baluch or Baloch people, a poor pastoral Muslim ethnic group living chiefly in coastal Pakistan and Northwest Iran. Amnesty International said that the death penalty trials often target the poorest of Iranians who are unaware of their rights or of how to properly fight for their own defense. 

“The judges in Revolutionary Courts will ask if the drugs are yours and it makes no difference if you say yes or no. The judge at my trial told me to be quiet when I said the drugs were not mine. He said my sentence was death and ordered me to sign a document accepting it. He didn’t even allow my lawyer to speak in my defense,” an Iranian Death Row inmate said to Amnesty International.

Another relative of a death row inmate told Amnesty International that the prisoner’s court appointed lawyer basically extorted them for a large sum of money and then vanished entirely. 

“She never saw her court-appointed lawyer. He gave the family false promises that he would have her death sentence overturned if they paid him an extortionate amount of money,” the relative of a Death Row inmate said.” They sold everything they had to pay him, even their sheep. Once he took their money, he disappeared and left the family with a lot of debt.”

Another relative of someone executed in Iran, a teenager, told Amnesty International he was now faced with the choice of making money to support his family or paying his school registration. 

“I should be worried about my exams like other children, not going to work. My wages do not cover my family’s necessities because of all the loans we have. I don’t even have the money to cover my school registration for next year. If my father hadn’t been executed, I would be thinking about my future right now, not thinking of how to make money for my family,” the teenager said. 

A 2022 Amnesty International report said that Iran had the second highest rates of executions in the world, surpassed only by China. The same report said the rate of execution in Iran increased by 83 percent from 2021 to 2022 largely due to an increase in murder and drug trafficking convictions. 

“States and intergovernmental bodies must condemn the Iranian authorities, in the strongest terms, for these arbitrary executions, call for an official moratorium on all executions, send representatives to visit prisoners sentenced to death, and seek attendance at trials involving capital crimes. Given the crisis of impunity for mass arbitrary executions, they must also urgently pursue meaningful pathways for accountability,” Eltahawy said. 

In early 2023 Amnesty International reported five people were executed for engaging in protests, a man was executed for adultery due to having engaged in a consensual sexual relationship with a married woman, and two social media users were executed for “apostasy,” meaning the abandonment or renunciation of religious beliefs, and “insulting the Prophet of Islam.”

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