Iran carrying out ‘killing spree’ of alleged drugs offenders

15 December 2011

Amnesty International today revealed a dramatic increase in the number of alleged drugs offenders executed in Iran. The organisation said Ireland, along with other states and the EU, should review their funding of Iranian anti-drugs operations.


In the 44-page Addicted to Death: Executions for Drug Offences in Iran, the organisation finds that at least 488 people have been executed for alleged drug offences so far in 2011, a nearly threefold increase on the 2009 figures.


Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland, said: “The Iranian authorities have carried out a killing spree of staggering proportions to try to contain their massive drugs problem. But there is no evidence executions deter drug smuggling any more than imprisonment.”


Irish funding

Ireland is one of a number of countries that funds anti-drugs operations in Iran through the UN Office for Drugs and Crime. The European Union separately funds another Iran-based project to coordinate regional anti-drugs work.


Colm O’Gorman continued: “The Irish Government should be applauded for supporting anti-drugs operations at the international level, which helps to protect people here at home. An estimated 145 metric tones of heroin was trafficked through Iran in 2009, with much of it destined for Europe.


“But we, along with other donor countries and the EU, need to review all anti-drugs cooperation with Iran to ensure these funds are not being used to carry out human rights abuses or to facilitate the kinds of mass executions we have recorded. 


“We also need to be using every opportunity to persuade the Iranian authorities to halt the use of executions.”


Mass executions

During the middle of 2010, Amnesty International received credible reports that a new wave of executions for drug offences was taking place. These included reports of secret mass executions at Vakilabad Prison in Mashhad, with one - on 4 August 2010 - involving over 89 individuals.


In almost all cases executions have followed grossly unfair trials and the families and lawyers of those accused have often received little or no warning that executions were due to take place.


Members of ethnic minorities or foreign nationals, particularly Afghans, are most at risk of execution. Amnesty International believes there might be as many as 4,000 Afghan nationals on death row for drugs offences. In some cases there are claims that Afghans were executed without being brought to trial at all.


Amnesty International continues to hear of executions of juvenile offenders for alleged drug-related offences, despite Iranian officials claiming that these are no longer taking place.


Drug problem 

Iran has the fourth highest rate of drug-related deaths in the world, at 91 per 1 million people aged 15-64, and is a major international transit route for drug smuggling. 


The European Union is providing €9.5 million over three years for an Iran-based project to strengthen regional anti-narcotics cooperation. The UN Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has provided up to $22 million since 2005 to support training projects for Iran's counter narcotics forces. 


Ireland has made a number of contributions to the UNODC in recent years, including more than €2 million in 2007. This year the Irish Government made a voluntary contribution of €100,000, of which €40,000 was allocated to the UNODC’s general fund and €60,000 to anti-drugs work in Iran.


The UN programme is supposed to promote reform in the Iranian justice system. But in a July 2011 visit to Iran, UNODC’s Executive Director Yury Fedotov praised Iran's counter-narcotics work without mentioning the increasing use of the death penalty.


Colm O’Gorman concluded: "The UN, the EU and all countries helping the Iranian authorities arrest more people for alleged drugs offences need to take a long hard look at what is going on and what they can do to stop this surge of executions.


"They cannot simply look the other way while hundreds of impoverished people are killed each year without fair trials, many only learning their fates a few hours before their deaths."



In 2009 there were at least 389 executions. Almost 43 per cent were for drug related offences.


In 2010 there were over 550 executions. Official sources acknowledged 253 executions but Amnesty has received credible reports of over 300 more, the vast majority believed to be for drug-related offence


This year it is believed that there have been - until end-November - at least 600 executions in total. Around 81 per cent have been for drug-related offences.


Find out more about Amnesty International's work for human rights in Iran.


Read Addicted to Death: Executions for Drug Offences in Iran.