Drug-related Executions in 2022

April 19, 2023, 2:26 a.m.

According to reports gathered by Iran Human Rights (IHRNGO), at least 256 people were executed for drug-related offences in 2022, a more than two-fold increase compared to 2021 (126) and ten times more than 2020 (25).

Full 2022 Annual Report on the Death Penalty in Iran

Facts about the drug-related executions in 2022

According to Iran Human Rights reports, an annual average of at least 403 people were executed for drug-related offences between 2010 and 2017. The diagram above shows the reduction in the number of drug-related executions observed in the three years following the enforcement of the Amendment to the Anti-Narcotics Law at the end of 2017. The numbers in 2022 are more than double the numbers in 2021 and 10 times higher than in 2020.

Drug-related executions increased by fivefold in 2021, and 10-folds in 2022 compared to the average of 2018-2020.

Executions for drug-related offences were carried out over all months except April (Muslim month of Ramadan). The peak was in November, a month into the nationwide protests.

In 2022, drug-related executions were carried out across 21 difference provinces, an increase from 15 in 2021. The highest number of executions were carried out in Sistan and Baluchistan province.   


Executed for drug-related charges

Along with security charges, drug-related charges fall under the jurisdiction of the Revolutionary Courts which, as aforementioned, systematically deny defendants their right to due process and a fair trial. Of the 256 drug-related executions recorded by Iran Human Rights, Baluch minorities were overrepresented with 47.3% (121) in 2022.

Ghobad Narouyi: Baluch father who “died standing”










Ghobad Narouyi was a Baluch father from the Nasr Abad village in Zabol. Arrested and sentenced to death for drug-related charges, he spent three years on death row before being executed in Birjand Prison on May 17.[1] Following his execution, Baluch activists reported that he had written on his foot: “my destiny was to die standing.”


Mehdi Sarhadi: falsely promised pardon for memorising Quran

Mehdi Sarhadi was a 36-year-old Baluch man who spent four years on death row. Transferred back and forth from the gallows several times, Mehdi was promised a pardon by prison authorities if he memorised a joz (around 20 pages) from the Quran. He was memorising his second jozwhen he was executed in Isfahan Central Prison on May 29.[2]





Allah Nazar Esmailzehi: tortured to force confession

Allah Nazar Esmailzehi was a 33-year-old Baluch man arrested by Semnan traffic police in January 2019. He was not in possession of any drugs when arrested and the drugs later attributed to him were discovered the next day. He was tortured to accept the charges and executed in Damghan Prison on May 31.[3]






Nematollah Barahouyi: killed for resisting unannounced execution

Nematollah Barahouyi was a Baluch father of three daughters. He had spent two years on death row when on November 6, he was woken up and told he was being taken for execution without any prior notice. He was killed by prison guards when he resisted. Yet, his lifeless body was hanged in Zahedan Central Prison to declare his cause of death as execution and avoid judicial consequences.[4]




Dramatic increase in drug-related executions five years after the reform to the Anti-Narcotics Law: The UNODC and international community has to react

The last Amendment to Iran’s Anti-Narcotics Law came into force on 14 November 2017, leading to a significant drop in the number of drug-related executions from an annual average of 403 executions to an average of 26 executions in the proceeding three years. However, this trend was reversed in 2021 when 126 drug-related executions were recorded by Iran Human Rights. With 256 executions, the number of drug-related executions in 2022 were ten times higher compared to that of 2020.

Iranian authorities introduced the 2017 Amendment to the Anti-Narcotics Law mainly due to international pressure. Crucially, European states funding the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) projects to combat illegal drugs in Iran were unwilling to fund any further projects due to the high number of drug-related executions.

In the 2021 Annual Report on the Death Penalty, Iran Human Rights and ECPM expressed grave concern about the alarming increase in the number of drug-related executions and called on the international community to react.[5] However, no significant reactions were observed, and the UNODC which is collaborating with the Islamic Republic in combating drug trafficking, has not even once addressed the dramatic increase in drug-related executions since 2020.

The authorities’ need to instil fear in society in order to prevent further dissent is the most likely reason for the sharp increase in the number of drug-related executions. Drug offenders are predominantly from the most marginalised groups in society and the international community’s silence makes the political cost of their execution very low. The 2017 Amendment's major shortcoming which provides a loophole for authorities to carry out drug-related executions when they desire, is that it did not address due process and fair trial issues.

All drug-related offences are processed by the Revolutionary Courts. Reports collected by Iran Human Rights demonstrate that those arrested for drug-related offences are systematically subjected to torture in the weeks following their arrest. They often do not have access to a lawyer while in detention and by the time a lawyer gains access to their case, they have already “confessed” to the crime.[6] Revolutionary Court trials are also typically very short, with lawyers often not even given a chance to present a defence for their clients.


[1] https://iranhr.net/en/articles/5216/

[2] https://iranhr.net/en/articles/5255/

[3] https://iranhr.net/en/articles/5246/

[4] https://iranhr.net/en/articles/5577/

[5] Iran Human Rights | Article: Annual Report on the Death Penalty - 2021 | (iranhr.net)

[6] https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/12/16/iran-bid-end-drug-offence-executions