Ghezel Hessar prison (Image, Human Rights Watch)
100 prisoners in Ghezel Hessar prison, Iran, have been told to prepare for impending execution following a pause in hangings ahead of last week’s parliamentary elections. All of the prisoners face execution for alleged drug offences.
The news comes after the UN recently announced a new $20 million funding deal to support Iranian drug enforcement operations. It now faces calls to cancel the funding unless Iran pledges not to proceed with the hangings.
The impending executions were confirmed by a prosecutor from one of the country’s revolutionary courts who, according to the Iranian NGO Iran Human Rights, delivered the news in the prison, in northern Iran, earlier this week. The 100 prisoners – who had not been given the right to appeal their convictions – were told that the country’s Supreme Court had upheld their sentences.
Iran has the world’s highest per capita execution rate, and alleged drug offenders make up the majority of people hanged. Last year saw a near-doubling in the country’s rate of drug-related executions, and last week an Iranian official revealed that in one village, all adult men had been executed on drug-related charges.
People executed in Iran for drug-related offences have included juveniles such as 15 year old Afghan refugee Jannat Mir, and political protestors such as Dutch national Zahra Bahrami. According to recent reports, at least one juvenile offender, Mohammed Ali Zehi, is currently awaiting execution for alleged narcotics offences.
In December 2015, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) announced a four-year funding deal for Iran’s drug police. The deal is reported to be worth $20 million, and represents a doubling in existing international funding to Iranian drug enforcement operations. The European Union helped to negotiate the deal, and countries including the UK and Austria have recently expressed a desire to cooperate more closely with Iran on drug operations.
The UNODC’s own human rights policy stipulates that “If, following requests for guarantees and high-level political intervention, executions for drug related offences continue, UNODC may have no choice but to employ a temporary freeze or withdrawal of support”. However, the agency’s own evaluation of its most recent Iranian funding programme found that “no action has been taken yet in line with UNODC guidance”.
International human rights organization Reprieve and Iran Human Rights have called for the UN to freeze counter-narcotics funding to Iran unless the country pledges to halt drug-related executions.
Commenting, Maya Foa, head of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said: “Atrocities like these are the one tangible return on the UN’s investment in Iranian drug raids -the funding has yielded no discernible reduction in drug trafficking. Iran’s spree of drug-related hangings is based on unfair trials and forced ‘confessions’, and its main victims are innocent scapegoats and vulnerable people who’ve been exploited as drug mules. It’s time for the UN’s drugs agency to abide by its published policy, and freeze funding for Iran’s drug police until the country halts these hangings.”
Mahmood Amiry Moghaddam, Founder and Executive Director of Iran Human Rights, said: “We call on European countries to use their improved relations with Iran to stop the arbitrary executions of these prisoners, and to push for a moratorium on the death penalty for drug offences. It is time for Europe to show that their improved relations with Iran will also benefit human rights.”
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights/WOT and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad. She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”. She is also a survivor of US “collateral damage”