Two leading rights groups on Tuesday called for an end to international cash and technical assistance to Iran's anti-drug campaign, which they said was bolstering a rise in executions.
In 2010 and 2011, Iran executed more than 1,000 drug offenders, more than triple the number in the previous two years, according to Harm Reduction International, a narcotics lobbying group which issued the call with Human Rights Watch.
UN agencies, Canada, Japan and European nations have provided millions of dollars in the past decade to support drug control efforts in Iran and neighboring countries that are intended to reduce the supply and demand of illicit drugs, the two groups said.
However the assistance has made it "easier to prosecute alleged offenders based on unfair trials, and even apply the death sentence under the draconian drug laws of Iran's revolutionary courts," said Rebecca Schleifer of HRW.
"Draconian laws, secret trials, no appeals, and death sentences for possession of small amounts of drugs should warn off any donor that wants to do the right thing," the health and rights expert said.
The number of people executed in Iran for narcotics offenses has risen sharply in recent years, the groups said.
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"In 2011, Iran executed at least 600 people, second only to China. Eighty-one percent of these executions were for drug-related crimes, including for personal use," the two groups said in a statement.
According to figures from the Amnesty International rights watchdog, 166 of the 389 executions recorded in 2009 were drug-related. This is almost 43 percent of the total.
Foreigners, particularly refugees and unlawful migrants from Afghanistan, are at special risk of being deprived of their right to a fair trial and ultimately executed, Human Rights Watch and HRI said.
Between 2005 and 2009, 16 Afghan children were arrested by Iranian authorities for drug offenses and later sentenced to death, the statement said.
Scores of those executed for drug-related crimes in recent years, many of them at the Vakilabad prison in the northeastern city of Mashhad, are believed to have been Afghans who did not get access to lawyers or consular officials, the rights groups said.
Austria, Belgium, Britain, Canada, the European Union, France, Germany, Ireland and Japan have all provided money bilaterally to Iran or through the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the groups said.
The money has been used to strengthen border posts, buy equipment such as body scanners and to train sniffer dogs.