The report released today by Amnesty International,says that this year has seen a dramatic rise in the number of people executed for drug offences in Iran.
The organisation said that at least 488 people have been executed for alleged drug offences so far in 2011, a nearly threefold increase on the 2009 figures, when Amnesty recorded some 166 executions for similar offences.
Amnesty says that during the middle of 2010 it began to receive credible reports that a new wave of drug offence executions was taking place.
These included reports of secret mass executions at Vakilabad Prison in Mashhad, with one,on 4 August 2010,involving over 89 individuals.
The Iranian authorities officially acknowledged 253 executions in 2010, of which 172 were for drug offences - almost 68% of the total - but Amnesty received credible reports of a further 300 executions, the vast majority believed to be for drug-related offences.
In 2011, taking together both official and unofficial sources, it is believed that there have now been at least 600 executions (up to the end of November), with around 81% for drug-related offences.
The organisation called on the Iranian authorities to end the use of the death penalty against those accused of drug offences.
In most cases executions have followed grossly unfair trials, and the families and lawyers of those accused have often received little or no warning that executions were imminent. Members of marginalised groups - including impoverished communities, ethnic minorities suffering discrimination, and foreign nationals, particularly Afghans - are most at risk of execution for drugs offences. Afghan nationals appear to be particularly poorly treated by Iran’s justice system and as many as 4,000 Afghans could be on death row for drugs offences. Amnesty has received reports of some Afghans being executed without even a trial, these apparently only learning of their impending execution from the prison authorities.
Meanwhile, Amnesty continues to receive reports of executions of child offenders for alleged drug-related offences, despite Iranian officials claiming that these no longer take place in the country.
Amnesty International Interim Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Ann Harrison said: “To try to contain their immense drug problem, the Iranian authorities have carried out a killing spree of staggering proportions, when there is no evidence that execution prevents drug smuggling any more effectively than imprisonment.
"Drug offences go much of the way to accounting for the steep rise in executions we have seen in the last 18 months.
“Ultimately Iran must abolish the death penalty for all crimes, but stopping the practice of executing drug offenders, which violates international law, would as a first step cut the overall number significantly.”
Iran has the fourth highest rate of drug-related deaths in the world, at 91 per one million people aged 15-64, and the country is a major international transit route for drug smuggling.