A Drug Trafficker In Iran Suffers The Death Penalty

Iran is a predominantly Islamic nation in Western Asia with a population of more than 82 million people. The authoritarian regime in Iran enforces some of the harshest laws against illegal drugs anywhere in the world. On January 25, the state-operated Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported the execution of a notorious drug trafficker whom ISNA called the “Crocodile of the Persian Gulf.” Ali Salehi, the chief prosecutor for Hormozgan Province, told the media organization that the “Crocodile” was the leader of “one of the biggest and most vicious drug-trafficking networks in Iran and the region.” Salehi and other Iranian officials refused to disclose the true name of the “Crocodile” and merely identified him by the initials AZ.

Nevertheless, the anti-regime Radio Farda has revealed that the “Crocodile” was a 36-year-old man named Eisa Zamin Koofte. In 2015, Iranian police arrested Koofte while he was smuggling over 400 tons of narcotics through international waters. In his statement to ISNA, Salehi alleged that Koofte was also guilty of laundering about 20 trillion Iranian rials, the equivalent of $147 million, in Iranian real estate. Koofte was executed by hanging together with an accomplice whom Radio Farda identified as Masih Hatami. The Iranian judiciary has stated that 18 other men have been convicted as associates of the “Crocodile,” and they all have been sentenced to life in prison.

Drug Trafficking In Iran

The proliferation of illegal drugs and the widespread incidence of drug addiction are major challenges for Iran, where the most common addictive drugs are Afghan morphine and heroin. Every year, the Iranian authorities seize and destroy hundreds of tons of opium which drug traffickers transport through Iran from Afghanistan to markets in the Middle East, Europe, and America. Methamphetamine, which Persian-speaking Iranians call shisheh, is common in Iran as well. Javad Aliploo, another Iranian drug trafficker who was executed this January, was arrested in 2015 for carrying shisheh. 

Tragically, the people of Iran suffer one of the highest rates of drug addiction in the world. Between 2 to 3 million Iranians have a substance use disorder. Additionally, almost 25% of Iranians who use drugs intravenously are HIV positive. To stanch the flow of heroin and other illegal drugs into Iran, the Iranian regime has spent over $800 million to build walls and dig ditches along the country’s border with Afghanistan and Pakistan to deter smugglers. Furthermore, at least 3,700 Iranian law enforcement officers have lost their lives battling drug traffickers in eastern Iran. Despite the hundreds of anti-narcotics operations the regime conducts every year, about 70% of heroin which enters Iran evades confiscation. The business of drug trafficking in Iran continues to reap billions of dollars in profits.

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Executions In Iran

Unlike in most other countries, the authorities in Iran routinely execute their citizens for using and trafficking drugs. In 1988, the regime began to impose the death penalty, usually a public hanging, on any Iranian in possession of over five kilograms of opium or hashish, a cannabis-based drug, or more than 30 grams of heroin, morphine, or codeine. Most drug trafficking convictions in Iran carry an automatic death sentence as well. Under the Anti-Narcotics Law, the Iranian regime has executed at least 10,000 people in the past three decades.

According to Amnesty International, Iranian prisoners on death row lack due process protections and never receive a fair trial. In most cases, they cannot appeal their convictions. The Afghan, Baluch, and Kouresunni minority groups are notably vulnerable to accusations of drug trafficking. The vast majority of people imprisoned in Iran for narcotics crimes are younger than 30 years old, and the Iranian authorities have even been known to execute minors for drug possession. Additionally, the regime sometimes brands political prisoners as drug traffickers to justify their death sentences.

In 2018, the regime amended the Anti-Narcotics Law to abolish the death penalty for non-violent crimes, including minor drug possession, and commuted the sentences of over 5,000 Iranians on death row to life in prison. The amended law now requires a person to possess larger quantities of illegal drugs to incur capital punishment.

From 1988 to 1997, drug addiction itself was a crime under Iranian law. During those years, the regime would send Iranians who struggled with drug addiction to prison and punish them with flogging. The regime eventually softened its approach to addiction by replacing prisons with rehabilitation centers. Nevertheless, Iranians with substance use disorders are still likely to suffer discrimination and ill-treatment from their own government.

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Nathan Yerby

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  • Nathan Yerby is a writer and researcher. He is a graduate of the University of Central Florida.

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