LONDON (Reuters) - Iran has executed more people for drug-related crimes in 2011 than in the previous two years combined, in "a killing spree of staggering proportions," Amnesty International said Thursday.
Iran has the world's highest per capita execution rate, rights group said. For drug related offences alone, it put 488 people to death in 2011, from 172 executions recorded last year and 166 in 2009, Amnesty said.
"To try to contain their immense drug problem, the Iranian authorities have carried out a killing spree of staggering proportions, when there is no evidence that execution prevents drug smuggling any more effectively than imprisonment," said Ann Harrison, a senior Amnesty official for the Middle East and North Africa.
Iran has the fourth highest rate of drug-related deaths in the world, at 91 per million people aged 15-64, and is a major international transit route for drug smuggling, Amnesty said. Much of the narcotics come from neighboring Afghanistan.
"Ultimately Iran must abolish the death penalty for all crimes, but stopping the practice of executing drug offenders ... would as a first step cut the overall number significantly," Harrison said in the report.
In the latest case of mass executions for drugs-related offences, Tehran hanged 11 convicted drug traffickers, state television reported just three weeks ago.
In recent years, Iran has received international assistance, including from several European countries and the United Nations to help stem the flow of drugs across its borders.
(Reporting by Philip Baillie; Editing by Alessandra Rizzo.)