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Rights groups in eleventh-hour plea to stop Iran executions

HRW: Iran has not made any tangible efforts to reduce its alarming execution rate [Getty]

Date of publication: 13 January, 2017

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Iran should stop the imminent execution of 12 men convicted over drug offences, Human Rights Watch has urged, calling on Tehran to abolish the death penalty for non-violent crimes.

Iran should immediately stop the execution of 12 men convicted of drug offences, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have urged.

The men are due to be executed on Saturday – evidence that, human rights organisations say, despite repeated government promises, Iran has not made any tangible efforts to reduce its "alarming" execution rate.

"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."

On 8 January, officials at the prison, in Alborz province, west of Tehran, transferred at least 12 people sentenced to death on drug charges to solitary confinement, telling them their execution was imminent.

However, the execution was postponed due to the death of Iran's former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Sources familiar with four of the cases said that those accused did not have access to a lawyer during interrogations, and that the verdicts of these men were based on other prisoners' confessions, HRW said.

Iran should immediately hold off on executions and focus on working to abolish the death penalty once and for all.

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 or cocaine.

Iran executed hundreds of people in 2016, the majority for drug offences. According to MP Hassan Noroozi, there are 5,000 people on death row for drug offences in Iran, the majority between ages 20 and 30.

Iran's parliament has been discussing abolishing the death penalty for some drug offences, but has continued executions nonetheless.

"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 offences," said Philip Luther, MENA research and advocacy director at Amnesty International.

Iran should immediately hold off on executions and focus on working to abolish the death penalty once and for all, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said.

In December 2015, MPs submitted a proposal to eliminate the death penalty for drug offences, except for armed smuggling, but the initiative did not move forward.

In November 2016, a new draft legislation was introduced, but was weaker than the 2015 attempt, as the bill kept several categories of drug offences that would still attract the death penalty. The new draft bill is still being considered by several parliamentary commissions.

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