Screen capture of a video showing a smuggler killed in 2011 (below). Video filmed by Kurdish activists.
With the cost of living is rising in Iran, more and more Iranians are travelling to Kurdish cities in the country’s west to go shopping, since all sorts of goods are much cheaper there. But these savings come with a human price: the goods are cheap only because they are being brought in from Iraqi Kurdistan by ‘kulbars’, or smugglers, who risk their lives in the process.
There are frequent reports in Persian and Kurdish media about police killing smugglers – or, in some cases, the horses that some of them ride on. The latest incident took place on October 2, when a driver carrying smuggled goods in his car was shot and killed by the police near the border town of Sardasht. (We spoke to a local resident who knew him well; see below).
There are two phases for smuggling goods in from Iraq: in the first phase, smugglers, most of them Iranian, take goods over the border from Iraqi Kurdistan into Iranian Kurdistan, usually on horseback or on their own backs. This can include all sorts of goods, like tea, textiles, television sets, perfume, alcoholic beverages, and satellite receivers (the latter two of which are illegal in Iran).
Once across the border, other men, this time by car, drive them to the closest cities. During both of these phases, they risk being shot by border police.
While official statistics are not available on the frequency of smuggler killings by police, it has become such an issue that the UN Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur on Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, dedicated a whole chapter to it in his latest report
A sign posted in a local mosque announcing the funeral of Mohammad Karimi, the smuggler shot by police on October 2.