The Iranian government has overseen a massive increase in executions for drug-related offenses this year, say human rights organizations. They also believe that false drug charges are being used to silence political dissenters, as the government warily eyes events elsewhere in the Middle East. Two years after the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad caused mass protests—and arrests—Iran has been executing roughly two prisoners a day, with the total estimated at between 320 and 390 in 2011 so far. Observers question whether all the executions are genuinely drug-related and at least two political activists are thought to be among those hanged. Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi recently described the deaths of political prisoners in her country as "systematic."
Iran Human Rights (IHR), an independent monitoring organization, reported that on July 3, 25 people were secretly executed in Ghezel Hesar prison yard in Karaj, to the west of Tehran. Yesterday morning, two more men were hanged on drug-related charges at Orumiyeh prison. Last week the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI) revealed another secret mass hanging—of 26 people—that took place at Vakilabad prison, in the northeastern city of Masshad, on June 15. The victims learned of their fate only hours beforehand and their lawyers and families were not informed. ICHRI's Executive Director, Hadi Ghaemi, described the executions as "a clear message that the state has no hesitation in using violence...in holding on to power." Iran, which borders opium-producing Afghanistan and has experienced a heroin epidemic, has harsh laws against traffickers—the possession, transportation or trade of more than 30 grams of heroin carries the death penalty—but a softer line on addicts. Amnesty International ranked the country second only to China for numbers of confirmed executions in 2010, with at least 252—although IHR and others put the figure far higher. (Meanwhile, the US placed fifth, in-between those bastions of human rights, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.) Thousands more Iranian prisoners with drug convictions remain on death row.