Early March has not seen a reduction in the number of executions in Iran, despite international pressure throughout the Human Rights Council’s 34th session to issue a moratorium on the death penalty, both for those currently sentenced and those who are going to trial.
Despite all the international attention on this issue, the Iranian regime executed an Afghan national named Mohammad Nabi Ali Zehi, who had been detained in Zabol Prison for the past six years. He was hung in the courtyard of the prison by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Ali Zehi had been convicted on drug related charges. Various members of the Human Rights Council noted that Iran continues to use the death penalty for drug-related charges, despite the fact that it is not been shown to be an effective deterrent. Ali Zehi was taken out of his cell on Wednesday and tied to a metal pole in the cold, where he was denied food, water and sleep prior to his execution.
Another four prisoners were hung in the Central Orumieh Prison, also on drug-related charges. Three of the men that were executed were Kurds, while the fourth man was a Turk from Azerbaijan. Additionally, Iran continues to detain Kurdish citizens for a variety of reasons. Two prisoners were hanged in the Central Qazvin Prison, with both having been sentenced on drug-related charges. Altogether, 11 men were executed on drug related charges through mid-March, although these were only the confirmed executions, according to the NCRI Human Rights Centre Weekly Bulletin.
According to Iranian law, many non-violent crimes, such as ‘insulting the Prophet’, apostasy, same-sex relations, adultery, and drug-related offenses, are all punishable by death. In December 2015, members of the Iranian Parliament introduced a bill to eliminate the death penalty for drug offenses that don’t involve violence. That initiative has stalled and there has been no progress, according to the Human Rights Watch.
These executions for drug-related offenses continue at a high rate, especially in light of the May elections. Hardline factions that dominate the security apparatus and judiciary continue their crackdown on citizens with a blatant disregard of the international and domestic legal standards that Iran has agreed to.
The United Nations has repeatedly criticized Iran’s use of the death penalty in these cases. As of the end of 2016, a member of the Iranian Parliament estimated that there were about 5,000 prisoners currently on death row and 90% of them are first time offenders between the ages of 20 to 30.
“The situation we’re currently facing is that the majority of executions are for drug-trafficking crimes and the Western countries and international organizations are taking political advantage of it. This is extremely costly for our country…the real traffickers are those who are managing the drug trade from hotel rooms in Ankara and Istanbul,” said MP Ezatollah Yousefian in a debate on the open session of Parliament in November 2016.
Despite these debates, the death penalty continues to be used extensively throughout Iran.