NewsBriefs BUTTONS

Iranians Executing Hundreds Each Year for Drug Trafficking


April 1993

Hundreds of Iranians -- 670 in 1991 alone -- are being executed each year by the Iranian government for trafficking in opium, heroin, or hashish, according to a 1992 United Nations report cited in a recent news story. Meanwhile, thousands of others receive lengthy prison sentences meted out by strict Islamic courts with none of the judicial safeguards recognized in the West (Caryle Murphy, "Islamic Iran Wages War On Drug Abuse: Rehabilitation Centers, Prisons Have Equal Roles,"; "Islamic Drug Court Blends Sternness, Informality," Washington Post, 3/3/93, A19).

Prior to the Islamic revolution, Iran followed a moderate policy towards addicts, providing methadone and treating casual opium smoking as a minor vice. But since the 1979 revolution, the government has eliminated methadone maintenance and has treated all drug use as a crime.

Information provided by the Iranian government is not verifiable, but it reported almost 61,000 "addicts" -- their term for any drug user, casual or habitual -- were arrested from March 1991 to March 1992. The government reported that fewer than 36,000 were arrested in the 11 months prior to February 1993. Most drug offenders are opium smokers, a traditional mode of ingestion in the Middle and Far East. While the Iranian government estimates that it has no more than 500,000 addicts, some Western observers put the actual figure at around 2 million, contending the Iranian government downplays the problem as inconsistent with the Government's projected image of a happy theocracy.

Large quantities of opium and morphine base, from which heroin is made, flow through Iran from neighboring Afghanistan and Pakistan. Opiate drugs are extremely cheap by Western standards, selling for about the price of sugar, according to a Western traveler cited by the Post.

The Iranian Islamic courts have been denounced by U.N. and Western human rights monitors, prompting complaints from some Iranians that they are being criticized for taking efforts to curtail a drug trade driven by European and Western appetites. One Iranian clergyman told the Post that the West should express gratitude rather than criticize Iran for failing to respect human rights.