Being involved in the illegal drug trade in certain countries, which may include illegally importing, exporting, selling or possession of significant amounts of drugs, constitutes a capital offence and may result in capital punishment for drug trafficking, or possession assumed to be for drug trafficking. There are also extrajudicial executions of suspected drug users and traffickers in at least 2 countries without drug death penalties by law: Mexico and Philippines.

As of December 2022 Harm Reduction International (HRI) reports 3700+ people are on death row for drug offences worldwide. For 2022 HRI reports at least 285 executions by law for drug offences globally in 6 countries. 252+ in Iran. 22 in Saudi Arabia. 11 in Singapore. Exact numbers are not possible due to "extreme opacity" in some countries: China, North Korea, and Vietnam.[1]

A Harm Reduction International global overview of 2022 reported: "HRI has identified 35 countries and territories that retain the death penalty for drug offences in law. Only a small number of these countries carry out executions for drug offences regularly. In fact, six of these states are classified by Amnesty International as abolitionist in practice. This means that they have not carried out executions for any crime in the past ten years (although in some cases death sentences are still pronounced), and 'are believed to have a policy or established practice of not carrying out executions.' Other countries have neither sentenced to death nor executed anyone for a drug offence, despite having dedicated laws in place."[1]

A March 2018 report by Harm Reduction International says: "Between January 2015 and December 2017, at least 1,320 people are known to have been executed for drug-related offences – 718 in 2015; 325 in 2016; and 280 in 2017. These estimates do not include China, as reliable figures continue to be unavailable for the country." 1,176 of the 1,320 total were in Iran.[2][3]

According to a 2011 article by the Lawyers Collective, an NGO in India, "32 countries impose capital punishment for offences involving narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances."[4] A 2015 article by The Economist says that the laws of 32 countries provide for capital punishment for drug smuggling.[5]


Sentences for drug-related crimes, especially for trafficking, are the strictest in Asian countries.[6] In January 2014, then-President Thein Sein of Myanmar commuted all the country's death sentences to life imprisonment.[7] In South Korea, the law continues to provide for the death penalty for drug offences, although it currently has a moratorium on capital punishment: there have been no executions since 1997, but there are still people on death row, and new death sentences continue to be handed down.[8][9] While capital punishment has been abolished in the Philippines, the Philippine Drug War has led to thousands of extrajudicial executions against drug traffickers, which are endorsed by president Rodrigo Duterte and his government.[10]

Use by country

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Harm Reduction International breaks down nations by high application, low application, symbolic application, and insufficient data.[1]

Note: Asterisk (*) after country name indicates Crime in LOCATION links.

Nations that retain the death penalty for drug offenses by law or extrajudicial execution.[1]
Location Application[1] Notes
 Bahrain * Low [11][12][13]
 Bangladesh * Low
 Brunei Symbolic
 China * High Ranks first in the world by number of executions related to drug trafficking.[14]
 Cuba * Symbolic
 Egypt * Low
 Gaza Strip Low
 India * Symbolic Option when a second conviction for drug trafficking in quantities specified.[4]
 Indonesia * High Death penalty for drug-related crimes depending on severity (drug trafficking, possession of large amounts of drugs, etc.), other drug-related crimes may result in life sentencing or other harsh punishments. See also: Bali Nine.
 Iran * High Trial under the jurisdiction of the Islamic Revolutionary Court, a special court that tries individuals accused of smuggling, blaspheming, or committing acts of treason. Iran ranks second in the world for most executions.[14]
 Iraq Low
 Jordan * Symbolic
 Kuwait * Low
 Laos * Low
 Libya Insufficient data [15][12][13]
 Malaysia * High A Moroccan man was sentenced to death by the High Court on May 30, 2013, for trafficking in more than six kilograms of methamphetamine.[16] A man was sentenced to death by hanging on September 3, 2021, for 299 grams of cannabis presumed to be for trafficking.[17]
 Mauritania * Symbolic
 Mexico * Extrajudicial Extrajudicial executions. See Mexican drug war.
 Myanmar * Symbolic According to the cartography available on the French version of the website of the International Federation of Human Rights, drugs crimes can still be punished by the death penalty in Myanmar in theory.[18]
 North Korea * High
 Oman * Symbolic
 Qatar * Symbolic
 Pakistan * Low
 Philippines * Extrajudicial By law the Philippines has no death penalty for anything.[10] But the Philippine Drug War that was enacted under president Rodrigo Duterte has led to thousands of extrajudicial executions against suspected drug users and traffickers.
 Saudi Arabia * High Saudi Arabia ranks third in the world for the most executions. 43 percent of those executed in 2015 had been convicted of smuggling drugs, ranging from heroin to marijuana.[14]
 Singapore * High See Misuse of Drugs Act (Singapore).
 South Korea * Symbolic Drug trafficking can result in a death penalty; however, South Korea has not had an execution for such offenses since 1997.[8][9]
 South Sudan Symbolic [5][19]
 Sri Lanka * Low
 Sudan Symbolic
 Syria Insufficient data
 Taiwan * Symbolic Legal penalty under Narcotics Hazard Prevention Act, though rarely enforced in recent years. Last execution for drug trafficking offense is on October 7, 2002, although there exists those on death row.[20]
 Thailand * Low
 United Arab Emirates * Low
 United States * Symbolic Very large quantities or mixtures (e.g. on an industrial scale) of heroin, cocaine, ecgonine, phencyclidine (PCP), lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), marijuana, or methamphetamine may result in the death penalty in the United States. So far, no prisoner has been put on death row for this reason.[21][22][23][24] While the United States Supreme Court in Kennedy v. Louisiana (2008) struck down capital punishment for crimes that do not result in the death of a victim, it has left open the possibility for "offenses against the State" – including crimes such as "drug kingpin activity" (also, treason and espionage).[25][26] From a March 2018 article: "This week, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent a memo to the nation’s federal prosecutors urging them to seek the death penalty in cases involving large-scale drug traffickers. The memo points to an existing but little-known federal law that already allows for such a punishment. Sessions’ memo talks largely about opioids, but federal law contains no such drug-specific limitation on prosecutors’ power."[27]
 Vietnam * High
 Yemen * Insufficient data Harm Reduction International reports: "imposition of one death sentence for drug use and trafficking of amphetamines and cannabis resin in June 2022. This is the first drug-related death sentence noted by a reputable source in 11 years".[1][28]


The Singapore embarkation card contains a warning to visitors about the death penalty for drug trafficking under the Misuse of Drugs Act. Warning signs can also be found at the Johor-Singapore Causeway and other border entries.
A sign at the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport warns arriving travelers that drug trafficking is a capital offense in the "R.O.C." – the official name Republic of China and also known as Taiwan.[20]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f The Death Penalty for Drug Offences: Global Overview 2022. Harm Reduction International. See the full report. Use page numbers on PDF, not from browser or reader. Page 15 breaks down nations: High Application, Low Application, Symbolic Application, and Insufficient Data. Page 25 for Philippines extrajudicial killings. Page 56 for Yemen.
  2. ^ The Death Penalty for Drug Offences: Global Overview 2017. By Gen Sander. March 2018. Harm Reduction International. See full report.
  3. ^ Report Reveals World's Most Prolific Executioners for Drug Offences. By Avinash Tharoor. 8 March 2018. TalkingDrugs, site sponsored by Release.
  4. ^ a b Bombay High Court overturns mandatory death penalty for drug offences; first in the world to do so Archived 22 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine. 17 June 2011 by Lawyers Collective. "Consequently, the sentencing Court will have the option and not obligation, to impose capital punishment on a person convicted a second time for drugs in quantities specified under Section 31A. ... Across the world, 32 countries impose capital punishment for offenses involving narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances."
  5. ^ a b Which countries have the death penalty for drug smuggling? April 29, 2015. The Economist.
  6. ^ Penalties for drug-related crime in Asia. May 5, 2009. CNN.
  7. ^ The Death Penalty in Myanmar Archived 13 May 2017 at the Wayback Machine. Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide Archived 5 December 2019 at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ a b The Death Penalty in South Korea Archived 10 December 2019 at the Wayback Machine. Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide Archived 5 December 2019 at the Wayback Machine.
  9. ^ a b Chung Hye-min (February 6, 2015). Drug smuggling reaches a record-high in South Korea. The Korea Observer.
  10. ^ a b FAST FACTS: Death penalty in the world and in the Philippines. October 10, 2022. Rappler.
  11. ^ "The Death Penalty in Bahrain". Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide. Archived from the original on 13 October 2018. Retrieved 17 August 2017.
  12. ^ a b "10 October 2015 13th World Day against the Death Penalty "The death penalty does not stop drug crimes"" (PDF). World Coalition Against the Death Penalty. Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 April 2018. Retrieved 17 August 2017.
  13. ^ a b "DEATH PENALTY AND DRUG CRIMES - Detailed Factsheet - 13th World Day against the Death Penalty" (PDF). World Coalition Against the Death Penalty. Archived from the original on 1 October 2015. Retrieved 17 August 2017.((cite web)): CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)Archived . October 10, 2015 was 13th World Day.
  14. ^ a b c Bellware, Kim (6 January 2016). "Mass Execution Is Part Of Saudi Arabia's Long History Of Horrors". Huffington Post. Retrieved 7 December 2020.
  15. ^ "The Death Penalty in Libya". Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide. Archived from the original on 14 September 2017. Retrieved 17 August 2017.
  16. ^ Moroccan man gets death for drug trafficking Archived 21 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine. 31 May 2013. New Straits Times.
  17. ^ Delivery man gets death for trafficking 299.09gm of cannabis. September 3, 2021 in The Star (Malaysia). Archived here.
  18. ^ "La peine de mort pour les crimes liés à la drogue en Asie".
  19. ^ The Death Penalty in South Sudan Archived 16 May 2017 at the Wayback Machine. Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide Archived 5 December 2019 at the Wayback Machine.
  20. ^ a b "綜合新聞". Archived from the original on 17 October 2012. Retrieved 15 January 2022.
  21. ^ Schipani, Vanessa; Farley, Robert (5 April 2018). "Q&A: The Death Penalty for Drug Trafficking?". Retrieved 15 January 2020. No administration, Republican or Democrat, has acted on that statutory authority.
  22. ^ The Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994. Criminal Resource Manual 69. United States Department of Justice - United States Attorneys' Office. "In passing this legislation, Congress established constitutional procedures for imposition of the death penalty for 60 offenses under 13 existing and 28 newly-created Federal capital statutes, which fall into three broad categories: (1) homicide offenses; (2) espionage and treason; and (3) non-homicidal narcotics offenses."
  23. ^ The death penalty for drug kingpins: Constitutional and international implications. By Eric Pinkard. Fall, 1999. Vermont Law Review. "In 1994 Congress enacted the Federal Death Penalty Act (FDPA) with provisions permitting the imposition of the death penalty on Drug Kingpins. The FDPA is unprecedented in American legal history in that the death penalty can be imposed in cases where the Drug Kingpin does not take a human life." See also: Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, and the section on the Federal Death Penalty Act.
  24. ^ 18 USC § 3591 - Sentence of death | Title 18 - Crimes and Criminal Procedure | U.S. Code. Title 18 of the United States Code. Legal Information Institute.
  25. ^ Syllabus. Kennedy v. Louisiana. Syllabus posted on SCOTUS blog. SCOTUS is Supreme Court of the United States.
  26. ^ Chapter 4: The Death Penalty for Non-Homicide Drug Trafficking? Kennedy v. Louisiana and the Federal Death Penalty Act Archived 12 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine. By Seth Gurgel. From the book The Contemporary American Struggle with Death Penalty Law: Selected Topics and Cases. U.S.-China Death Penalty Reform Project of the U.S.-Asia Law Institute of NYU School of Law. A paragraph from it that summarizes things (emphasis added):
    Making this discussion somewhat easier is the fact that in a recent case totally unrelated to drug trafficking (the case itself addressed the constitutionality of imposing the death penalty for rape of a child where no death occurs), Kennedy v. Louisiana, the U.S. Supreme Court conducted a detailed analysis of the distinction between crimes that do and do not take a human life and the relationship of each type of crime to the death penalty. Within this analysis, in a non-binding portion of the Court’s opinion (dictum), the Court drew an analytical line separating “offenses against the individual” from “offenses against the State.” In its holding, the Kennedy Court stated that, at least within the category of “offenses against the individual,” the death penalty is unconstitutional for crimes that do not take a human life, because the punishment of death is “excessive” and “disproportionate” to the crime, pursuant to the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishment.” With respect to the other category, however – “offenses against the State” – including crimes such as drug trafficking (and treason and espionage), even when they do not result in a death, the Court left open the possibility that the death penalty might not be unconstitutionally “excessive” punishment.
  27. ^ "Jeff Sessions' latest memo pushes prosecutors to seek the death penalty against big drug dealers. That could include legal marijuana business owners". The Denver Post. 22 March 2018.
  28. ^ The Secretariat Penal Code stipulates the death penalty for one person and the imprisonment of three who were convicted of trafficking and drug use. Google translation of article title into English. Al Jadeed Press (27 June 2022).

Methods of execution:

Resources for references: