The Persian Poppy Shah and His Diplomatic Drug Princes


The author, Gerd Michael Müller, born in Zürich in 1962, traveled as a photo-journalist to more than 50 nations and lived in seven countries, including in the underground in South Africa during apartheid. In the 80 years he was a political activist at the youth riots in Zürich. Then he was involved in pioneering Wildlife & eco projects in Southern Africa and humanitarian projects elsewhere in the world. As early as 1993, Müller reported on the global climate change and in 1999 he founded the «Tourism & Environment Forum Switzerland». Through his humanitarian missions he got to know Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and other figures of light. His book is an exciting mixture of political thriller, crazy social stories and travel reports – the highlights of his adventurous, wild nomadic life for reportage photography . (englisch corrections ongoing)

The Persian Poppy Shah and His Diplomatic Drug Princes

Humanitarian reasons did not count in the Persian empire of the Shah of Persia. As one of the most merciless persecutors of drug traffickers, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi had had well over 100 people shot for illegal possession of drugs since 1969 on the basis of his anti-drug law. Anyone caught in Persia with more than ten grams of heroin or two kilograms of opium was sentenced to death. All the greater was the unease and political dilemma in Switzerland over the course of the Geneva affair, when a member of the Shah’s team, who broke off his winter vacation in St. Moritz because judges and individual members of the authorities in Geneva had demanded that the immunity of the opium prince, who was not accredited in Switzerland, be lifted in order to initiate criminal drug proceedings.

After all, Persia was Switzerland’s third most important trading partner in Asia at the time and, moreover, one of its largest arms buyers. In 1969/70, Swiss war material producers sold weapons systems in Iran for over 90 million Swiss francs. For the sake of the prominent St. Moritz winter sportsman Resa, the most prominent anti-Shah agitator, Bahman Nirumand, was also not allowed to speak publicly in Switzerland at that time. In the same year that the Shah enacted the world’s toughest drug prohibition laws, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi lifted a 1955 ban on opium poppy planting and ascended to the throne of poppy farmers: 12,000 hectares of poppy crops belonged to him and his family. According to the WHO in Geneva, the heroin and opium extracted from the imperial poppy could only be used medicinally to a very small extent. Thus Persia, along with Afghanistan and Turkey, was the hubs for the illicit trade.

UN drug investigators noted another Persian anomaly at the time: while all countries had destroyed the drugs they seized, of the 18.4 tons of drugs seized, only 329 kilos were destroyed in Iran, with 152 kilos going to the legal trade. of the remaining 17 tons, the Shah had them distributed around the world via his diplomatic couriers. Suspicions that Persian diplomats were smuggling heroin and opiates for their emperor’s foreign exchange coffers had not just arisen since the Huschang affair in Geneva, who had already been charged and imprisoned twelve years earlier in Paris for possession and use of drugs.In 1961, when poppy planting was banned in Iran, the Shah’s twin sisters, Princess Ashraf, were also reportedly caught at Geneva’s Coin-trin airport with a suitcase full to the brim of heroin. Only their diplomatic immunity, according to the „National-Zeitung“, had protected them from prosecution. What does the situation look like today?

Iran’s drug problems have increased and are causing a stir at home as well as internationally. In June 2017, Iran’s Central Narcotics Control Board announced that, according to one study, 2.8 million to 3 million Iranians between the ages of 15 and 65 were addicted to drugs. Observers estimate their number is even higher. Drug abuse has thus doubled in six years. In 2016, a member of parliament’s social affairs committee revealed that some addicts are as young as 11. Particularly troubling is the trend and latent drug abuse among women. Sometimes drug-addicted mothers give birth to addicted babies. A vicious spiral. The escalation resembles a national epidemic and affects people from different backgrounds. The middle class may use illicit substances as recreational drugs. Hopelessness, however, seems to play a significant role in the growing abuse. Desperation as a result of sanctions and the Corona crisis is widespread in Iran and is growing with the lack of economic prospects and political alternatives. Economic hardship-the result of decades of mismanagement and corruption-and international sanctions have left a strong psychological impact on society.

Iran’s geographic proximity to Afghanistan, the center of opium production, also contributes. Ninety percent of the world’s opium poppy crop comes from the neighboring country, which shares a 1,000-kilometer border with Iran. According to Parviz Afshar, spokesman for the Central Narcotics Control Board, opium is the most commonly used narcotic in Iran, accounting for about two-thirds of the total amount of drug use. Marijuana and its derivatives are now in second place at about 12 percent. They have replaced methamphetamines. Cannabis products are thought to be used mainly by younger people, who also talk about them more freely than other drug users. Open sharing on social networks and the legalization of cannabis in parts of the Western world have contributed to its popularity, believes Abbas Deylamizadeh, head of the non-governmental Rebirth Charity Society. Since the 1979 revolution, the Iranian government has tried to crack down on drug cultivation and use, as well as alcohol consumption. Again, without success and with serious consequences

According to the Islamic law in force in Iran, all of this is forbidden. The laws are strict and have been vigorously enforced. Dubious policy of severity: Until last year, the policy showed no tolerance for drug offenders. Possession of even the smallest amounts of hard drugs, such as heroin or cocaine, was punishable by death. Over the past decades, thousands of drug offenders were arrested and executed. But the rigid policy was not successful. The drug crisis has worsened. But President Hassan Rohani’s government persuaded parliament and the Guardian Council to amend drug laws last year. The reform eliminates the death penalty for certain drug offenses. It is estimated that this has already saved the lives of close to 4,000 inmates on death row. What was not abolished was the death penalty for possession of or trafficking in at least two kilograms of hard drugs or 50 kilograms of opium or cannabis. It also continues to apply to repeat offenders. 

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