Drug offences account for 80 percent of executions in Iran

Despite a declining political will by a growing number of South-East Asian governments to enforce their capital drug laws, death sentences have tripled in Pakistan and executions are on the rise in Iran and Saudi Arabia

by Natalie Glanvill on 20 November 2012 13:37


More than 500 people were executed for drug-related offences in the Islamic Republic of Iran last year, a trend which has continued in 2012, an international human rights non-governmental organisation (NGO) has told the House of Lords.

It appears that the number of people who have received the mandatory death penalty in Iran has increased five-fold since 2008. According to the report, drug offences accounted for over 80 percent (540) of the 676 executions in Iran last year.

Iran's executions have been making headlines recently, as the government persists down the path of public killings. Just last month, 10 people convicted of drug-trafficking were hanged inside a prison in Tehran's capital. 

In the first half of 2012, 16 people were executed in Saudi Arabia for drugs, compared with only one person in 2011. Alarmingly, at least three of the total 16 so far this year were executed for hashish.

In the UK, hashish would fall under the drug classification umbrella of cannabis as it is the resin of a female cannabis plant. The maximum sentence handed down by a Crown Court for the most serious Class B related-offence in the UK is 14 years’ imprisonment.

The number of death sentences in Pakistan has tripled from five in 2009, to at least 16 in 2011, Harm Reduction International’s (HRI) report says. Last Thursday, a former soldier convicted of murder in 2008 was executed, Pakistan’s first execution since 2008.

Over 10 percent of roughly 78,000 prisoners in Pakistan are on death row as of the end of 2011. The UK currently leads the way in calling for all countries to abolish the death penalty and has so far given Pakistan millions of pounds to tackle drug trafficking.  

British national, Khadija Shah, imprisoned in Pakistan’s Adiala jail, faces the death penalty after being arrested at Islamabad airport with 140lb of heroin earlier this year. According to the human rights group, Reprieve, there are at least 25 Britons in prison in Pakistan facing the death penalty.

Although there were reportedly no executions in Malaysia in 2011, the number of death sentences approved under the country’s Dangerous Drug Act 1952 has increased year-on-year from 50 in 2009 to 83 in 2011.

Following a periodic review of the country by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in 2012, the Malaysian government has said it will consider reducing the maximum sentence from death to life in imprisonment for drug-trafficking offences.

No steps have been taken so far by the government to change the legislation as proposed by the UNHRC.

HRI Executive Director, Rick Lines, finds that although the political and legal drive to abolish death sentences for drug offences is working in some countries, the global picture still remains horrific.

“While there is cause for optimism on some fronts, hidden behind the statistics is a truly horrifying picture of inhumane drug enforcement.  

The identities of many of those sentenced to die or executed are rarely made public but in those few instances when the details are revealed, the same pattern emerges – the condemned are very often poor, disadvantaged and desperate [sic]”.

Of the 33 countries or territories that have capital drug laws, HRI estimates that over the past five years, executions for drug offences have been upheld in 12 to 14 of these countries. 

Donations, aid and funds intended to reduce crime and human suffering by reducing the supply of and demand for illicit drugs is not always the outcome donors, the UN or Western governments expect.

The effort to win this war against drug enforcement and human rights abuses attracts millions of dollars every year. Donors contributed approximately $273.2 million dollars to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) programme in 2010/2011.

Between 2000/1 and 2008/9, the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office spent approximately £3,025,000 on counter-narcotics assistance in Iran. 

Today’s report has proven that despite international efforts to get countries to abolish the death penalty and assist the demobilisation of drugs, countries such as Iran continue to execute people in their hundreds and the majority of those killed are for drug-related offences. 

Natalie Glanvill is an Editorial Assistant at The Commentator and tweets at @NatalieGlanvil1

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