AFRICAN diplomats have demanded an explanation from the Iranian Government after a Nigerian and a Ghanaian were executed in the northeast of the country without their embassies being notified.
Paul Chindo, from Nigeria, was hanged last month at Vakilabad prison in Mashhad. Akwasi Akuaba, from Ghana, was executed in August. Both men had been convicted of drug trafficking. Their ages are not known.
Officials at the two countries’ embassies in Tehran said that they were urgently seeking information as to why they were not informed that their compatriots were to be put to death.
Diplomats said they were baffled and angry that Tehran had disregarded standard international practice for the government of a death row inmate abroad to be notified before the sentence is carried out.
"We are very concerned. They have told us nothing and not responded to our questions,” an attaché at the Ghanaian Embassy, who did not wish to be named, said.
"There are other (Ghanaian) men in jail here. We want to make sure the same thing does not happen again. I have booked an appointment with the judiciary to get an explanation."
Human rights sources in Iran say that Chindo and Akuaba did not realise that they had been sentenced to death.
It is claimed that the men, who did not speak Farsi, were denied legal representation at their trials and that no translators were present.
They were given no warning that their sentences were about to be carried out.
A Nigerian diplomat said: “We have written to the Iranian Foreign Minister asking him to verify this report. Usually the Foreign Ministry would write a letter informing us that the sentence will be carried out. We did not receive any letter.
"We have a list of around 30 Nigerians in jail here. We still do not know for sure who it is."
The two men are among more than 100 who have been executed in secret at Vakilabad over the past six months, as authorities fight a mounting drug problem in the city.
At least 23 were hanged over two days in October, and 46 were killed in a single day some weeks ago.
Vakilabad is overcrowded with 12,000 inmates and human rights groups believe that up to 2,000 people remain on death row, most for drug offences.
Mashhad, in northeast Iran, lies close to the border with Afghanistan, on the trafficking route to Turkey, and judges have been given free rein to use capital punishment to eradicate the problem.
Iran’s Supreme Court is supposed to confirm all death sentences individually but The Times has learnt that Tehran has been approving executions by the dozen without review.
Many of those on death row claimed to have confessed under torture but their pleas were dismissed by judges.
A spokesman for the British Foreign Office said: “We have noted with concern the ongoing reports of numerous executions in Vakilabad and other prisons around Iran.
There remains a worrying lack of judicial transparency in Iran, including the trial and execution of drug traffickers, not least caused by the persecution of human rights defenders by the Iranian authorities."
Iran executes more people annually than any nation except China, and has the highest rate of executions per capita. Incidents of capital punishment have soared during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency.
In 2005, the year that he took office, Iran executed 85 people. Last year, the figure had risen to almost 400. Human rights groups believe that the tally could double this year.