Amnesty International is urging the Iranian authorities to reveal how many Afghan nationals it is holding on death row amid reports 45 Afghans may have been executed in Iran in recent weeks.
More than 4,000 Afghans are thought to be in Iranian jails. The number of those facing the death penalty may be as high as 3,000, mostly for drug-related offences.
According to Afghan news reports, Afghan MP Gul Ahmad Amini said on 12 April that 45 people had been executed in the preceding days and their bodies sent back to Afghanistan.
Iranian officials deny such numbers of executions and are refusing to confirm how many Afghans are at risk of execution.
“These numbers are truly disturbing,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director. “Iran must immediately put a stop to these executions and reveal how many Afghans it has executed.
“We are also calling on the authorities to come clean on exactly how many Afghan nationals they are holding in Iranian jails. At the moment, nobody knows for certain how many have been arrested, what crimes they have been convicted of or what their fate is likely to be. This secrecy can only increase the risk of miscarriages of justice.
“We’re particularly worried by the fact that so many of the Afghans in Iranian prisons have been convicted of drug-related offences and may therefore be sentenced to death.”
An estimated one million Afghan refugees are living in Iran after fleeing more than three decades of conflict in Afghanistan. In recent years, hundreds of thousands of other Afghans have entered the country as irregular migrants.
Concern for Afghan prisoners grew in March following the visit of a group of Afghan MPs to Iran, which has one of the highest rates of executions in the world.
Following the visit, Afghan MP Taj Mohammed Mojahed said officials from the Iranian Supreme Court had told them that 5, 630 Afghans were in prison with more than 3,000 sentenced to death.
An Iranian prison official later confirmed that over 4,000 Afghan nationals are being held in Iranian jails. He admitted it was possible that the figure of 3,000 Afghans on death row was accurate since the majority of the prisoners were convicted of drugs-related charges.
In Iran, trafficking in more than specified amounts of various illegal drugs carries a mandatory death sentence. Amnesty International recognizes that Iran faces serious social, security and economic problems relating to drug-trafficking, but believes that heavy reliance on the use of the death penalty to combat drug-trafficking is misguided, ineffectual and an affront to human rights.
“Sadly, these numbers only illustrate the extent to which the Iranian authorities misguidedly resort to the death penalty. Our concerns are compounded by the serious shortcomings of the Iranian criminal justice system and discrimination against Afghans in Iran,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
UN human rights experts have concluded that the death penalty for drug-related offences fails to meet the condition of “most serious crime”, under which the death penalty may be imposed. In addition, the UN has repeatedly urged member states to be transparent regarding the application of the death penalty.
Amnesty International has for decades documented shortcomings in the administration of justice in Iran and fair guarantees are routinely flouted. Detainees are frequently held incommunicado for prolonged periods – which puts them at higher risk of torture and other ill-treatment – are often denied access to a lawyer and forced to “confess” under duress.