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SAR QOROQ, Afghanistan -- Despite years of protests in Afghanistan and relentless lobbying by Kabul, the execution of Afghan prisoners, mostly on drug smuggling charges, is on the rise in Iran.

Across Afghanistan thousands of families face great anxiety because some of their loved ones are on death row in Iran or languishing in the country's prisons.

The family of Janat Mir has been through the agony. The 15-year-old left his village Sar Qodoq in the northern Afghan province of Takhar two years ago to look for work in neighboring Iran.

Months later his family learned that Mir was on death row on drug smuggling charges in an Iranian prison.

Mir was among the six Afghans hanged to death in Iran on April 5. Four of the dead came from his Kalafgan district, 260 kilometers north of the capital Kabul. All were convicted on drug-related charges.

Nazuk Mir, his elder brother, received word of his brother’s sentence from Iranian officials. "He was locked up in a prison in [the central Iranian city of Isfahan] and before his hanging I went to Iran to meet him," he told RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan.

"But Iranian officials did not let me meet Janat Mir," he said. "The officials did not hand over his body to me for burial in Afghanistan, and made me pay for his burial in Isfahan."

Janat Mir said that officials did not even let him take a last photo of his brother to share with their mother and sisters. "Janat Mir had fallen into the hands of Khairuddin, the leader of a criminal gang in Takhar. He was lured by offers of work," he said. "But we feel that he was implicated wrongly and didn't get a fair trial."

Nazuk Mir says the Afghan government is responsible for making sure that Afghans prisoners are able to defend themselves in Iran trials.

Sunatullah Temor, a government spokesman in Takhar, said that many residents from the province are on death row in Iran. He said that since last year, Iran has even banned returning the bodies of Afghan prisoners to their country. "This has even prompted protests against Iran in Takhar."

The global rights watchdog Amnesty International has documented a gradual increase in the executions of Afghan prisoners in Iran. At least 700 Afghans were executed in Iran last year compared to 544 in 2012. Iran currently has 4,000 Afghan prisoners on death row; 250 were executed in the first four months of this year.

Amnesty Internationals' London-based Iran researcher Bahareh Davis is concerned about the ongoing execution of Afghans in Iran, which she says contravenes international human rights law.

She told Radio Free Afghanistan that Afghan prisoners in Iran are denied access to a lawyer and are not allowed to defend themselves in trials.

"Executions in Iran did not bring the crimes down," she added.

Afghan media report that more than 70 percent of Afghan prisoners are being executed on drug-trafficking charges.

For decades Afghanistan has been the main global producer of opium and heroine while, over the border, Iran has some of the highest drug addiction rates in the world. Tehran has reacted to this crisis by enacting harsh laws, including death sentences, for drug trafficking. Iran is considered one of the leading executioners in the world.

Afghan lawmakers have reacted angrily to the large numbers of Afghans being executed in Iran. "The Afghan parliament remains deeply troubled by reports of increasing numbers of Afghan executions in Iran. [Iranian] officials should stop killing Afghan prisoners," Afghan parliamentary deputy Saleh Mohamad Saljoqi told Radio Free Afghanistan.

Fazel Hadi Muslemyar, the head of the Afghan Senate, recently said that "the issue of the Iranian regime executing Afghans is getting worse."

Lal Gul Lal, the head of the Afghan Human Rights Organization, criticized Kabul for failing to rescue Afghans from the death penalty. "Afghans do not get a fair trial, and do not receive any assistance from their country."

He called on the United Nations to intervene and pressure Tehran to stop some of the harsh sentences, including executions.

Late last month dozens of Afghan civil society activists protested in the eastern Khost province to condemn Afghan executions in Iran. "Handing down the death penalty for drug-related offenses is not in line with international laws and norms," Said Gul Meerza, one of the protestors, said.

Iranian officials have rejected such allegations as baseless. Iranian Embassy officials in Kabul did not respond to repeated requests by Radio Free Afghanistan correspondents for comment on the issue.

Kabul has been quietly lobbying Tehran for years to resolve the issue. Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Shekib Mustaghni said that the two countries are expected to conclude an agreement to end the execution of Afghan prisoners in Iran.

Mustaghani said that the two countries have recently begun exchanging prisoners based on a bilateral agreement signed earlier in the year.

He said that a future comprehensive bilateral agreement is expected to call for converting death sentences for Afghan prisoners into life imprisonment.

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