Iran’s Deadly Drug Penalty

Tehran, Iran (HRW) – Last month, Iran‘s vice president for women and family affairs, Shahindokht Mowlaverdy, made a disturbing allegation in an interview. She claimed that all men in a village in Sistan and Baluchestan province had been executed for drug offenses.

Her comments have circulated widely in the Iranian media. Mohamad Javad Larijani, secretary general of Iran’s High Council for Human Rights, confirmed the incident—albeit trying to downplay it—saying  in a CNN interview that he believed that “only” five families lived in the village.

Iran’s drug trafficking laws have a disproportionate impact on the country’s marginalized populations. Sistan and Baluchestan province shares a long border with neighboring Pakistan and Afghanistan and is saddled with the highest unemployment rate in the country. It is the country’s point of entry for drugs. And withfew economic opportunities, many residents take on small jobs in the drug trade to try to scratch out a living.

In 2014, the province’s prison director said in an interview that more than 4,000 prisoners—about 50 percent of the province’s prison population—were detained for drug-related offenses. These were not drug barons. Rather, he claimed, 90 percent “were breadwinners for their families, and committed these offenses to provide for their families’ needs.”

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Some of them may face the death penalty. Iran’s anti-narcotics law imposes a mandatory death sentence for manufacturing, trafficking, possession, or trade of as little as 30 grams of heroin, morphine, or various other controlled substances. In 2015 alone, Iran executed more than 966people, the majority for drug offenses.

International human rights law bans the use of the death penalty for drug offenses. UN drug agencies, such as the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the International Narcotics Control Board, have urged countries to stop imposing the death penalty in such cases.

Iranian officials have also questioned the effectiveness of draconian anti-narcotic laws in combating drug trafficking. In December, a group of parliament members submitted a proposal to eliminate the death penalty for drug offenses — with the exception of armed smuggling. Approving these amendments may save thousands of people, including those from marginalized areas like Sistan and Baluchestan province.

This report prepared by Tara Sepehri Far for Human Rights Watch.