“Iran kills for possession of less than 50g of drugs”
Iran Human Rights (IHR) listed 580 executions in the Islamic Republic in its Annual report on the death penalty in Iran, three quarters of which are for drug-related offences. According to IHR, this campaign of violence also hits foreigners – mostly Afghans – and includes public hangings. As the June 2013 presidential election looms, IHR and several other World Coalition member organisations fear tougher repression and they are launching an online petition to call on Iran’s international partners to condition anti-drug aid to an execution freeze.
The Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, a new World Coalition member based in the US, concurs. Its research director Ladan Boroumand discussed the report the Foundation presented to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2013.
Worldcoalition.org: Do you share the conclusions from IHR’s annual report?
Ladan Boroumand: There are a few discrepancies in statistics, but we agree on the main points. We have a gap because we have been able to verify only 540 cases and IHR has verified 580 cases. We need to check our respective lists together to find out the cause of the discrepancies and we will do it. When we receive information that we cannot verify, we leave it aside, while IHR publish it with reservations, which is also useful, because of the lack of transparency in the Iranian judicial system.
Why is it so hard to come up with statistics on the death penalty in Iran?
The victims executed for ordinary crimes such as drug offences give rise to very little information. We cannot reach their families, while they are not aware of their rights and don’t know how to contact the media or international organizations. Fear is another problem. Those families receive threats if they talk to outsiders. For example, a mother gave us documents on her son’s death sentence, but she begged us to keep them secret and make sure he could not be identified because she had received threats that her other children would be targeted if she spoke out. Then there are Afghan prisoners, whom we know nothing about. We have begun to make contacts in Afghanistan to find out more, but fear is widespread there too.
Is there a risk that executions accelerate with the June 2013 presidential election?
In previous elections, repression slowed down one month or so before the vote to encourage people to take part, and picked up again just after the vote. We have no indication of this policy this year. There is intense repression against the media and the NGOs, yet we have not seen a spike in executions. But judicial executions are not the only ones. We also document extra-judicial executions and the abusive use of lethal force by security forces. The details of charges used in capital cases, too, are important: 195 people were executed in 2012 for possessing or trafficking less than 10kg of drugs. More worrying still is the fact that six people were hanged for possessing less than 500g of drugs, without being accused of trafficking, and one person for possession of 49g of crystal meth. Three people were also executed for alleged crimes committed before they were 18.
There are more and more calls on western powers to stop assistance to Iran against drug trafficking if it leads to executions. Do you agree?
This is very important. Abolition is part of the European Union’s vocation and it cannot support a regime that kills for possession of less than 50g of drugs. If they support the Islamic Republic, the condition must be a moratorium on the death penalty. Moreover, we know from sources inside the regime that capital punishment is inefficient to curb drug use and trafficking. The head of the Iranian welfare office estimates that the rate of drug users grows faster than the birth rate. Since the revolution unleashed violence against drug addicts and traffickers 30 years ago, their share in the prison population has risen from 5% to 43%. It is a complete failure.
You are developing a memorial to the victims of human rights violations in Iran. What is it exactly?
Our father was the victim of an extra-judicial execution by the Islamic Republic in Paris. Since 1979, Iranian society has not reacted strongly enough to State violence. We want Iranian to know about it through a database of all victims, whoever they are: prostitutes, criminals, righ- or left-wing activists… We have been adding them to a directory called “Omid”, which means “hope” in Persian. Each story is presented in a format that explains what a fair trial should have been and which of the person’s fundamental rights have been violated – with the right to life representing the ultimate violation. We have collected 15,779 stories so far, this is painstaking work.
Why are you joining the World Coalition?
It is first a question of principle, to be part of the movement. But our work is also very much archive-based, and we do not have much advocacy power. Others Coalition members do. We can give them ammunition. Inside Iran, we have seen that not many supporters of democracy discuss the death penalty. They oppose it as a symbol of state violence, but they don’t know which arguments to use against it. We have been translating literature on this issue, but it is not widely used. We need to reach those people.