Iran carries out 'mass execution' of drug offenders

Date: 28 July 2008

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hanging_thumb.jpgYesterday, the government of Iran hanged twenty people convicted of drug offences. These executions took place at the Evin Prison, north of Tehran. In total, 29 persons were hanged on Sunday in the what the state broadcaster described as the largest mass execution carried out in the country in recent years. The executions took place after the death sentences had been ratified by Iran's Supreme Court. Tehran’s Chief Prosecutor described those hanged yesterday as 'trouble-makers' and 'thugs'.

Sunday's hangings brings the total number of persons executed in Iran this year to 155, according to press reports. According to Amnesty International, Iran executed 317 people in 2007, ranking the country second only to China in the number of death sentences carried out that year. Yesterday's executions have sparked protest from human rights organisations in Iran and internationally.

Iranian officials have described those executed as 'traffickers', and Tehran prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi told the state broadcaster that 'We believe that executing these thugs reflects the Islamic republic's will to confront such crimes.'

However, Iran's narcotics laws cast a wide net when it comes to those drug offences punishable by death.

As reviewed in Harm Reduction International's 2007 report, 'The Death Penalty for Drug Offences: A Violation of International Human Rights Law', a mandatory death sentence is imposed in Iranian legislation for possession of more than 30g of heroin or 5kg opium. However, under Iranian legislation, this quantity may be calculated cumulatively, and therefore based either upon the weight seized during a single arrest or added together over a number of cases. As a result, a person with several convictions for possession of smaller quantities of drugs may receive a mandatory death sentence if the total amount seized from all convictions exceeds the proscribed threshold. Iranian legislation also prescribes the death penalty for a repeat conviction for 'intentionally caus(ing) another person to be addicted to the drugs'.

Iran has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 6(2) of which states that the death penalty may be carried out for the 'most serious crimes'. As described in the Harm Reduction International report, UN human rights monitors as well as a review of the drug legislation in death penalty states clearly shows that drug offences of any type - including trafficking - do not constitute 'most serious crimes' and that the execution of people for drug offences is in violation of international human rights law.

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