FILE - Iranian police officers stand behind narcotics that were seized at the Milak border in southeastern Iran, Oct. 10, 2012.
FILE - Iranian police officers stand behind narcotics that were seized at the Milak border in southeastern Iran, Oct. 10, 2012.

Human rights group Amnesty International says it has recorded a decrease in executions in Iran, where authorities have suspended the use of the death penalty for drug-related offenses.

In an annual report released early Thursday in London, the group said Iran executed at least 507 people in 2017, an 11 percent reduction from the year before. It said Iran still had the second-highest number of executions last year after China, whose executions it estimated as being in the thousands.

Amnesty's Iran researcher, Raha Bahreini, speaking from London to VOA's Persian service on Thursday, said there had been a notable decline in the number of people executed by Iran for drug offenses, with 205 executions in that category last year, compared with 240 people executed for murder. "It is the first time in many years that executions for murder exceeded those for drug offenses," she said.

Bahreini attributed the decline in drug-related executions to Iran's recent changes in its drug-trafficking laws. "We welcome those changes, and if implemented properly, they will lead to a further drop in such executions," she said. "But we still urge Iran to abolish the death penalty for all drug-related crimes."

Changes in October

Iran's parliament amended the nation's drug-trafficking laws last October to restrict death sentences to traffickers convicted of carrying weapons, acting as a ringleader, or using mentally ill people and minors under age 18 in a drug crime. It also raised the minimum amounts of illegal drugs that would subject convicted traffickers to the death penalty.

The changes took effect in November and were made retroactive, prompting the Iranian government to suspend executions for thousands of convicted drug offenders on death row pending a review of their sentences for potential commutation to prison time.

International rights groups had called on Iran for years to curtail executions for drug crimes. Bahreini said the recent reforms were a response to that pressure. But she said Iran shows no sign of reforming its policy of permitting executions for murder cases.

Iran's Islamist system entitles family members of a murder victim to retribution by deciding whether a convicted murderer is executed or allowed to live in return for a payment of blood money.

Kaveh Adib and Mohammad Naficy of VOA's Persian service contributed to this report.

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