Update: Iranian authorities executed these 12 individuals on January 14, in Karaj Central Prison. 

(Beirut) – Iran should immediately halt the execution of 12 men convicted of drug offenses, scheduled for January 14, 2017, in Karaj Central Prison, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said today. The human rights organizations expressed concern that, despite repeated government promises, Iran has not made any tangible progress in reducing its alarming execution rate.

Shadows of an Iranian policeman and a noose are seen on the ground before an execution in Tehran, Iran. 

© 2005 Reuters

On January 8, officials at the prison, located in Alborz province, west of Tehran, transferred at least 12 people sentenced to death on drug charges to solitary confinement, notifying them that their execution was imminent. However, the execution was postponed due to the death of Iran’s former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have been able to confirm the identities of four of the 12: Ali Mohammad Lorestani, Mohammad Soleimani, Ali Ebadi, and Majid Badrlou. Sources familiar with the cases of these men said that those accused did not have access to a lawyer during interrogations, and that the verdicts for Lorestani, Soleimani, and Ebadi were based on other prisoners’ confessions.

Ali Mohammad Lorestani, arrested in October 2012. 

© Private

“Iranian officials should end all executions and outlaw the use of the death penalty for drug offenders, which does not meet international legal standards,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Packing prisons with drug offenders and rushing to send them to death row without due process in highly flawed trials will just worsen Iran’s justice problem while doing nothing to solve Iran’s drug problem.”

Iran’s drug law mandates the death penalty for the trafficking, possession, or trade of as little as 30 grams of synthetic drugs such as heroin, morphine, cocaine, or their chemical derivatives. Iran executed hundreds of people in 2016, the majority for drug offenses. According to Hassan Noroozi, a member of parliament, there are 5,000 people on death row for drug offenses in Iran, the majority between ages 20 and 30.

The Iranian authorities arrested Soleimani, who is from the city of Kermanshah and the father of three children, in Karaj in March 2015, in connection with the alleged possession of between 700 and 800 grams of heroin. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have communicated with an informed source who has said that Soleimani was not in possession of any drugs at the time of his arrest. According to the source, his sentence was based on the confessions of two men who implicated Soleimani after they themselves were caught in possession of drugs.

Another informed source said that the Supreme Court quashed Soleimani’s death sentence in July 2016 and granted him a retrial. However, he was later re-sentenced to death after a summary retrial, which was limited to one brief session, before a revolutionary court in Karaj. In a second review of Soleimani’s case, the Supreme Court rejected his appeal and upheld the death sentence.

Mohammad Soleimani, arrested in Karaj, in March 2015. 

© Private

Sources close to Lorestani told Human Rights Watch that authorities in Alborz province arrested him in October 2012, detaining him for at least 18 days at a police detention center and interrogating him without access to legal counsel. “His family had no idea where the authorities took [him],” a source said. “One of his fingers was broken when he was transferred to prison.”

Authorities arrested Badrlou, a 29-year-old taxi driver, and seized 990 grams of heroin from his car on July 15, 2011. A source familiar with his case told Human Rights Watch that Badrlou did not appeal, as he feared it would worsen the legal outcome. The source also reported that “authorities severely beat Badrlou when he was detained for interrogation at Iran’s Drug Control Office’s detention center.”

“The death penalty is a cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment that violates the right to life. Its use is abhorrent in any circumstance, but carrying out these executions would be particularly tragic given ongoing discussions in the Iranian parliament that could lead to the abolition of the death penalty for nonviolent drug offenses,” said Philip Luther, research and advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

Instead of condemning 12 people to the gallows, Iran should immediately establish an official moratorium on executions and focus on working to abolish the death penalty in Iran once and for all, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said.

In December 2015, members of parliament submitted a proposal to eliminate the death penalty for drug offenses, except for armed smuggling, but the initiative did not move forward. On November 23, 2016, 100 members of parliament introduced new draft legislation that is weaker than the 2015 attempt, as the bill only forbids the use of the death penalty in the case of nonviolent drug offenses and maintains several categories of drug offenses that will still attract the death penalty. The new draft bill is currently under consideration by several parliamentary commissions.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have repeatedly documented serious due process and fair trial violations, including the use of torture and other ill-treatment and summary trials, in capital drug cases in Iran.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has stated that a death sentence passed after an unfair proceeding violates both the right to life and the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Even in countries that retain the death penalty, international human rights law states that the use of death penalty should be limited to the “most serious crimes” – crimes involving intentional killing – which does not include drug offenses. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International oppose the death penalty in all circumstances because it is inherently irreversible and is the ultimate cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment.