Iranian President claims mass hangings help Europe, abolition would “be dangerous”

Tehran, Iran (Reprieve) – In a rare public comment on the death penalty since he took office in June 2013, President Hassan Rouhani claimed Iran has hanged hundreds of drug offenders to prevent drug trafficking into Europe.

"Iran in its region" by TUBS -

“Iran in its region” by TUBS –

In an interview yesterday with the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera on the eve of his European visit, Mr Rouhani noted that “most executions refer to illicit drugs trafficking”, and warned that “if we abolished the death penalty we would enhance their drug trafficking up to the European countries and that would be dangerous for you”.

At least 1,000 drug offenders have been hanged since President Rouhani took office, and the rate of drug-related executions has more than doubled this year, with at least than 694 taking place between January and September 2015. Those executed include teenagers like 15 year old Jannat Mir, a schoolboy who was reportedly denied a lawyer before being sentenced to death.

Rouhani’s upcoming visits to Italy and France present an opportunity for Iran to build support for its drug enforcement efforts. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is negotiating a five-year funding deal for Iranian counter-narcotics operations, and European governments are expected to contribute significant sums.

Italy is seen as a likely funder of the UNODC’s new programme in Iran having long indicated it favours closer counter-narcotics cooperation, while France remains Europe’s most committed funder of Iranian drug police. In August, UK Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond also commented that counter-narcotics was an area that Britain and Iran should now be “ready to discuss”.

According to the latest report by the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Iran, Iranian officials have “pointed to statements about its efforts issued by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime to demonstrate international support for its approach.”

Last month an overwhelming majority of MEPs voted for a resolution in the European Parliament advising EU member states that “the abolition of the death penalty for drug-related offences should be made a precondition for financial assistance, technical assistance, capacity-building and other support for drug enforcement policy”.

Commenting, Maya Foa, director of Reprieve’s death penalty team, said:

“The suggestion that mass executions are the only way to prevent drug trafficking is as absurd as it is dangerous. It is perfectly possible to address drug trafficking without resorting to a brutal execution campaign that has seen over 700 people – many of them juveniles – hanged this year alone. Executions for non-violent drug offences have doubled in Iran this year – if European governments’ statements on human rights are to stand for anything, they must make clear that funding for Iran’s next drug enforcement programme is conditional on an immediate end to executions for drug offences.”

This report was prepared by Reprieve.