Fourteen people who were previously convicted of drug trafficking have been hanged in the Iranian capital of Tehran, prosecutors said on Tuesday. Mass executions of mostly drug traffickers are regularly carried out in the country, which has been criticized for its high death penalty rate.
Tehran prosecutor's office said fourteen people were executed in the capital city at dawn on Monday after they were previously convicted of trafficking and possessing hundreds of kilograms (pounds) of heroin, morphine, opium, and cannabis. Their identities or specific details about their case were not released.
Iran's state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) said their applications to be pardoned were rejected by a court, which described those executed as 'major' drug traffickers. Some of those convicted had allegedly conspired to smuggle the drugs through airports and deliver them to European countries.
Murder, rape and drug trafficking are among the crimes which are punishable by death in Iran. Dozens of people were executed across the country in September 2011 alone, including 22 convicted drug traffickers who were all hanged on the same day in the Tehran suburb of Karaj.
According to Amnesty International, more than 600 people are believed to have been executed in Iran in 2011. At least 488 of them were executed for alleged drug offenses, a nearly threefold increase from the 2009 figures, when at least 166 executions took place for similar offenses.
Iran has the fourth highest rate of drug-related deaths in the world, at 91 per 1 million people aged 15-64, and is a major international transit route for drug smuggling. In recent years, Iran has received international assistance, including from several European countries and the United Nations, to help stem the flow of drugs across its borders.
The Iranian government claims more than 4,000 security personnel have been killed fighting drug traffickers since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution. But while the UN has praised Iran's counter-narcotics work, it has failed to mention the increasing application of the death penalty for drugs offenses.
The London-based rights group Amnesty International has said that members of marginalized groups, particularly Afghan citizens, are most at risk of execution for drugs offenses. There are as many as 4,000 Afghan nationals on death row for drugs offenses, the organization estimates.
According to human rights groups, including Amnesty International, trials in Iran often fail to meet international standards of fairness. Proceedings, particularly those held outside of the Iranian capital of Tehran, are often summary, lasting only a few minutes. Mass trials also take place on some occasions.
In October 2010, Iran's Interior Minister stated that the campaign against drug trafficking was being intensified and the Prosecutor General stated in the same month that new measures had been taken to speed up the judicial processing of drug trafficking cases, including by referring all such cases to his office, thereby denying them a right to appeal to a higher tribunal as is required under international law.
Two months later, the amended Anti-Narcotics Law came into force, apparently making it easier to sentence to death those convicted of drug trafficking, according to Amnesty International. The law also extended the scope of the death penalty to include additional categories of illegal drugs such as crystal meth, possession of which became punishable by death.
Family members of executed persons also face persecution and are often not given the bodies of their relatives for burial, according to human rights groups. Other family members have said that they had to pay officials in order to receive their relatives' bodies as payment for the rope used to hang them.