Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran



Proven With(out) Certainty: How Judges Sentence Defendants to Death for Drug Offences in Iran
Amidst a startling increase in executions for drug-related offenses, where an estimated 58% of all executions in 2023 (as of October 8) were related to alleged drug offenders, a grim reality emerges. Today, on World Day Against the Death Penalty, Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran (ABC) and Eleos Center (Faculty of Law, Monash University) are releasing a report to draw attention to the increasing number of drug-related executions and to the plight of individuals who face the death penalty in the Islamic Republic of Iran justice system. The report “Proven With(out) Certainty – How Judges Sentence Defendants to Death for Drug Offences in Iran” provides a closer look at the judicial process and the arbitrary application of the death penalty in Iran in drug-related cases.

The report describes how Iran’s judicial system lacks transparency, consistency, access to justice, and adherence to international standards. The use of the death penalty for drug offenses raises serious human rights concerns and is a violation of Iran’s obligations under international law. 

In recent years, Iran has witnessed a concerning increase in executions for drug-related offenses. In 2021, there were at least 131 known executions for drug offenses (of 317 total), followed by 254 in 2022 (of 579 total) and 300 so far in 2023 (of 513 total, from January 1 through October 8). However, the lack of transparency surrounding Iran’s criminal justice system makes gathering information about these cases challenging. Judgments are not publicly available in Iran, making it difficult to scrutinize judicial decision-making. This report is based on the analysis of ten judgments handed down between 2014 and 2020 involving 19 defendants, 16 of whom were sentenced to death for drug offenses, all of which have been executed. Most of these judgments were handled by the Revolutionary Court, which typically operates behind closed doors.
Alireza Madadpur was sentenced to death after a 20-minute trial at Karaj Islamic Revolutionary Court. He had been arrested on charges of “possession of drugs and possession of drug manufacturing paraphernalia” along with three other individuals, all of whom during trial testified that Alireza Madadpur had been on the premises for the first time to perform janitorial work and that he had no idea of the activities conducted in the house. He had been arrested on the first day of his job as a janitor while waiting outside the raided house where drugs were discovered. He was deprived of his right to an attorney during interrogations and detention. He could not afford to hire an attorney and was appointed a lawyer by the court a few days before his trial. His requests for a retrial, a new trial, and pardon were all denied.
One of the key issues highlighted in the report is the failure of judges to reference Iran’s international obligations, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which limits the application of the death penalty to the “most serious crimes.” Iran’s death penalty cases for drug offenses mean grave violations of human rights standards – executions for drug crimes are unlawful killings and amount to a violation of international law.

The report underscores the significant lack of transparency in Iran’s judicial system and how judgments lack essential details necessary for a written judgment under international standards, resulting in arbitrary decisions. Judgments fail to provide comprehensive information about the cases, the circumstances of arrest and detention, the handling of evidence, the role of defense counsel, and most importantly, how the court decided on the death penalty.
The judgment of Mohsen Nasiri Mojreh is a horrifying example of the insufficiency of legal reasoning conducted by the court before handing out the harshest punishment, the death penalty. The 400-word death sentence written by the Revolutionary Court in Karaj completely lacks any description of, inter alia, the facts of the case, defense or mitigating circumstances presented during the trial, and how and why the court decided the death penalty was appropriate.
Moreover, confessions play a significant role in securing convictions in Iran, and forced confessions, often obtained through torture, are common. This raises concerns about the reliability of these confessions and the fairness of the trial. Inconsistent rulings and a lack of adherence to principles like the presumption of innocence further erode confidence in Iran’s judicial system. Defendants often do not have access to their judgments, hindering their ability to appeal their convictions and compromising the right to a fair trial as guaranteed under Article 14 of the ICCPR. 

In conclusion, Iran’s non-compliance with its international obligations and the use of the death penalty for drug offenses raises serious human rights concerns, and the lack of clear, reasoned judgments only exacerbates these issues. The report draws attention to the urgency of addressing the lack of due process for the execution of crimes that are not considered the most serious crimes and calls for greater transparency and adherence to international standards in Iran’s criminal justice process.