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Iran executions reach 8-year high in 2023, with more than half for drug-related crimes: Report

In World
April 05, 2024

Iran executed 853 people in 2023 – the highest number on record since 2015, according to a new report in Amnesty International.

The surge in executions comes as Iran continues what Amnesty calls Iran’s “war on drugs.” In 2023, more than half – 481 – of the total executions were for drug-related offenses.

The mass deployment of the death penalty comes after Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s election in 2021, when Gholamhossein Eje’i was also appointed head of the judiciary. Amnesty points to the “lethal shift” in their anti-narcotics policy as a key driver of the spike in death sentences.

In 2023, total executions increased by 48 percent from 2022 and by 172 percent from 2021.

Drug-related offenses – which made up 56 percent of total executions in 2023 – saw that spike very acutely. In 2023, drug-related executions increased by 89 percent from 2022 and by 264 percent from 2021.

“The death penalty is abhorrent in all circumstances but deploying it on a mass scale for drug-related offences after grossly unfair trials before Revolutionary Courts is a grotesque abuse of power,” said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty’s deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“The Islamic Republic’s deadly anti-narcotics policies are contributing to a cycle of ‎poverty and systemic injustice, and further entrenching ‎discrimination against marginalized communities, in particular Iran’s oppressed Baluchi minority,” Eltahawy continued.

The report noted that while the Baluchi minority accounts for only 5 percent of Iran’s population, they accounted for 29 percent of drug-related executions, which Amnesty suggests demonstrates “the discriminatory effect of the authorities’ anti-narcotics strategy on the most marginalized and impoverished communities.”

The report also says that the deployment of the death penalty has been an outgrowth of the government’s efforts to crack down on protests. In particular, Amnesty points to the “Woman Life Freedom” uprising of September-December 2022, which was a slogan that represented women’s efforts for equal rights in Iran. That threat, however, has jolted the Iranian government into taking steps to scare people into silence.

Amnesty, in its report, called on the international community to call greater attention to this mass deployment of the death penalty.

“Without urgent action from the international community, drug-related executions will continue to rise, amid ongoing efforts by the judiciary, legislative and executive branches to enact a new lethal anti-narcotics law which, if adopted, would expand the range of drug charges incurring the death penalty,” the report read.

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