Tehran, Iran – Iran has hanged three prisoners, including a man known as the “sultan of cocaine”, as the United Nations warns of a rising number of executions.
The men executed on Wednesday were members of Panjak, according to the official news outlet of the judiciary, which identified the group as the “largest cocaine distribution cartel” in the country.
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The judiciary’s Mizan news site said the leader of the group, Hossein Panjak, was 32 and had been involved with drug smuggling for a decade when he was arrested along with five other members in 2014 during a party he organised to celebrate his rising wealth.
It said 1kg (2.2 pounds) of cocaine, opium and methamphetamines were confiscated during the arrest.
A short state television report showed the men in handcuffs and said the main suspect was arrested 17 times before. The judiciary said the Supreme Court confirmed their death sentences but did not elaborate on their trials.
Foreign-based human rights organisations identified the two other executed men as Abdolhossein Emami Moghadam and Babak Aghaei. They said the men were hanged at Ghezel Hesar prison in Karaj despite pleas for clemency by family members who had gathered in front of the jail.
They also said four more unnamed inmates were executed early Wednesday at Rajaei Shahr prison in Karaj, but Iranian authorities did not confirm this.
The Mizan outlet said on Friday an unnamed “international drug smuggler” was executed, but it was unclear whether that referred to Panjak. It said the individual led three international groups that smuggled narcotics to several European nations, including the Netherlands, and authorities seized 750kg (1,650 pounds) of heroin from him.
The executions on Wednesday came a day after the UN human rights chief, Volker Turk, said Iran has an “abominable” track record of executions this year with an average of more than 10 people hanged each week.
A UN statement said more than 210 people have been executed in 2023 but the actual number could be higher.
At the current rate, executions this year would be far higher than the 580 registered last year and could be the highest since 2015 when 972 death sentences were carried out, the UN said.
Iran executes more people annually than any other country except China, according to human rights organisations, including Amnesty International.
Before Wednesday’s hangings, the latest executions were carried out on Monday when two men were put to death for blasphemy convictions. They were accused of burning Qurans and running online groups that insulted the prophets of Islam.