Foreign aid millions helped Iran hang 3000 people – including women and children

Published by The Mail on Sunday (14th December, 2014)

British aid has assisted the brutal execution of nearly 3,000 people accused of drug smuggling in Iran, according to a report to be released this week. The campaign group Reprieve says millions of pounds from British taxpayers can be linked to ‘control’ operations and hangings carried out by the hard-line Islamic regime.

Those killed – often in public, suspended from cranes after forced confessions, torture and secret trials – include women, children and political dissidents. Human rights groups say the deaths are designed to spread fear rather than curb the drug trade.

Reprieve’s research reveals Britain channelled more money to Iran than the rest of Europe combined, in an effort to fight the drugs trade. Yet Iran has the world’s highest per capita execution rate, despite the UK’s public stance of seeking the death penalty’s abolition around the globe.

Britain’s support was quietly stopped amid outrage that it was boosting Iran’s security machine, but Reprieve believes scores more people sentenced to death still face execution thanks to British aid already received.

And it points out that millions still flow to similar operations in neighbouring Pakistan, which has the world’s largest death row population. Several Britons, including one mother and a man with learning difficulties, face execution for alleged drug crimes.

‘You look at those on death row in these two places and they are never the cartel kingpins but the poorest and most vulnerable, including children and people who are mentally ill or have learning difficulties,’ said Maya Foa, Reprieve’s lead investigator.

‘It is utterly hypocritical of Britain to call for worldwide abolition of the death penalty and then support policies in breach of its own human rights rules that encourage the round-up and execution of scapegoats and mules.’

Such policies fly in the face of the Coalition’s defence of its controversial £11 billion aid handouts on the grounds of a ‘moral obligation’ to help the world’s poorest people.

Reprieve’s report – European Aid For Executions – reveals Britain gave nearly £6 million to 12 Iranian anti-drug projects between 1998 and 2012. During this period there were 2,917 confirmed executions of alleged offenders. They included a 15-year-old boy and a Dutch woman who joined anti-government protests.

The cash provided Iran’s feared security forces with border posts, 1,000 bullet-proof vests, night-vision devices, body scanners, satellite phones, computer software, sniffer dogs and specialised surveillance vehicles.

It was channelled through the United Nations Office On Drugs And Crime, whose director has praised Iran’s ‘good practices’ and ‘active role’ in fighting drugs.

One flagship project co-funded by Britain was the creation of ‘border liaison offices’ beside Afghanistan. Among those subsequently caught was 15-year-old Naeem Kolbali, hanged for alleged drug trafficking although executions of juveniles breach international law. Sixteen more children were put to death in another Iranian border project.

War orphans are often forced to carry drugs such as heroin and crystal meth between the two countries. Reports suggest some are sentenced to death without appearing in court. Jannat Mir, a 15-year-old Afghan schoolboy hanged in April, was denied access to lawyers.

The number of executions has been rising in Iran, with 647 known to have taken place this year – the majority for drug offences. Human rights group Amnesty has accused the country of carrying out a ‘killing spree of staggering proportions’ under cover of the war on drugs.

Many hangings are carried out in public, although one notorious prison has a beam that can hold 60 nooses and once recorded 89 deaths in a single day. Those facing accusations have complained of beatings, torture and mock executions to force confessions.

Iran has a massive drugs problem, with more than one million addicts amid soaring opium production in neighbouring Afghanistan. But Reprieve says donors setting targets for aid encourage an increase in often-dubious convictions and subsequent death sentences.

Cases such as that of Zahra Bahrami, a British resident with dual Dutch-Iranian nationality, also fuel fears the regime uses the drugs war to clamp down on political dissent.

Bahrami returned to Iran for her daughter’s cancer treatment and was then arrested after joining anti-government protests. She was tortured, held in solitary confinement, charged with smuggling and forced to make a televised confession before execution in January 2011.

‘If they execute people for drugs there is no international outcry,’ said Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, a professor of medicine and leading Iranian human rights activist.

‘They are victims of an execution machine that is meant to spread fear. The number of executions goes up when the authorities face protests or civil society becomes too bold, then goes down during elections and when the international community has its eyes on Iran.’

Britain finally cut off its aid three years ago following concerns in some other European countries over Iran’s increasing use of death sentences. ‘The donations are leading to executions,’ said one Danish minister after his country evaluated the projects.

But Reprieve accuses the Coalition of pouring money into similar programmes in Pakistan, which has more than 8,000 people on death row. Britain is one of the biggest aid donors to Pakistan despite concerns over corruption. Almost £13 million has been handed to 22 counter-narcotic projects – again, far more than given by other European nations.

A Pakistan minister disclosed earlier this year that 100 prisoners had been given death sentences for drug offences since 1997, including five British men and one woman. Another 444 cases punishable by death were outstanding.

Those on death row include Arshad Ahmed, 52, a father of five from Birmingham who has learning difficulties. He was arrested in 2003 for possession of heroin worth £4 million after he carried locked luggage on to a flight to Britain.

Lawyers say his disability was ignored while there was no investigation into the men who gave him the bags. The same gang is thought to be behind the smuggling of 140lb of heroin by Birmingham mother-of-three Khadija Shah. She was given a life sentence in March.

Although there have been no hangings in Pakistan for six years, they are expected to resume next year. ‘The government has in principle decided to lift the moratorium,’ said one official in Islamabad.

A Foreign Office spokesman said the UK worked closely with partners to tackle drug trafficking and production: ‘We have a robust mechanism for identifying and managing the potential risks of our actions in relation to supply.’ He added that Britain was implacably opposed to the death penalty ‘in all circumstances’ and was concerned by suggestions that executions might resume in Pakistan.

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