Iranian Parliament to Discuss Death Penalty Abolition for Drug Trade

Investigations often reveal that most of the offenders are not the actual smugglers, ringleaders or beneficiaries, but only underlings who often get involved under financial and emotional duress
Some 90% of those on death row for drug-related crimes are first-time offenders.
Some 90% of those on death row for drug-related crimes are first-time offenders.

Lawmakers last week agreed to debate a proposal to abolish the death penalty for unorganized drug trafficking crime. During an open session, 147 out of the 195 MPs present in the 290-member chamber voted on the single-urgency bill to discuss the proposal.  

An alternative to capital punishment for some of the drug-related crimes has been under discussion for a while. Experts are of the opinion that it is not an effective deterrent and the law must be revised. 

It should be recalled that in December 2015, more than 70 lawmakers in the previous legislature had signed a petition, proposing the abolition of the death penalty except for organized crime and armed narcotics trade. The lawmakers brought forward the bill to eliminate the death penalty for 16 of the 17 drug offenses criminalized in Iran’s anti-narcotics law. While the bill was signed by at least 21 parliamentarians, reports said 70 MPs presented the bill proposing to replace the death penalty for almost all drug crimes with a life sentence.

Under this legislation, those offenders caught with weapons while smuggling drugs would still be eligible for execution. If the present bill were to pass, it would end executions for all drug crimes with the exception of armed trafficking, provided the powerful Guardian Council approves the bill before it can become law.

"Once approved, the plan will be added to article one of the anti-narcotics law as an amendment," said Yahya Kamalpour, deputy chief of the Majlis Judicial and Legal Affairs Commission, the Persian daily 'Iran' reported. 

Investigations have revealed that most offenders are not the actual smugglers or ringleaders, but only underlings or "carriers" who often get involved under financial and emotional duress. 

Around 5000 on Death Row

Based on statistics, around 5,000 drug dealers are currently on the death row, 90% of whom are first-time offenders between 20 and 30 years of age.  

"The real kingpins are in Ankara and Istanbul hotels controlling the business," maintained Ezzatollah Yousefian Molla, who drafted the bill. 

He says the drug law was ratified over two decades ago by the Expediency Council in 1989.

"The Expediency Council's task is not law-making but to settle differences that may arise between the Majlis and the Guardian Council," he said. 

Iran’s anti-narcotics law was drafted in 1988 and amended in 1997, and again in 2011. The amendments were made in response to the growing domestic drug problem. The government responded by issuing stricter punishments resulting in an expansion of the death penalty. 

However, the increased execution rate for drug related offense has not helped reduce drug crime prompting some officials to call for review of the death penalty for all drug crime, with the exception of armed trafficking.

In March, Mohammad Javad Larijani, secretary-general of Iranian High Council for Human Rights, said around 90% of the executions in Iran are related to drug-trafficking and almost 80% can be averted if the parliament passes the law. 

"The relatively high number of executions in Iran has been held against the country by some world powers," said Yousefian Molla.  

"Countries that have revised their anti-narcotic rules, have initiated practical strategies to distinguish drug addicts from the drug trade, while the law in Iran concerning haulage of specific amounts of drugs applies to both abusers and sellers," he added.  

Opponents to the reform, however, maintain that any lenience in the law will pave the way for more criminals to join the lucrative trade once they are assured that they can get away without facing the gallows. 

"The proposers of the plan seek to reduce the number of executions to avoid censure by the international communities. But who is to be held responsible for the six million (official figure is 2 million) drug users in the country?" asked Mehrdad Baouj Lahouti, a lawmaker. 

Comprehensive Revision Necessary

Ali Moayyedi, deputy at the Iran Drug Control Headquarters, also voiced objection to the idea on the grounds that it addresses only the punitive articles of the law. 

"With 34 years of experience in combating drug abuse, I support a comprehensive revision of the law, but strongly oppose changes that only focus on one aspect," of the law, he said. 

Iran’s anti-narcotics law includes 17 different drug related crimes punishable by death, ranging from possession to manufacturing and trafficking. 

He stressed that the articles on prevention, treatment and support of the affected people and their families need to be reconsidered while the proposal only focuses on penal laws. 

Hassan Norouzi, an advocate of the proposal, pointed out that it does not suggest the complete abolition of capital punishment for criminals, but restricts it to organized and armed activity. 

"We agree that substance traders are corruptors, but it is the leaders of drug cartels that must be executed and not the underlings." 

Iran for decades has paid a heavy price in the battle against illicit drugs, blamed partly on its geography as a major transit route for organized crime in drug trafficking from neighboring Afghanistan, the world’s opium capital, to Europe and beyond.

As per the next five-year economic development plan (2016-2021), the number of drug addicts should be brought down by 25% (5% every year) by the end of the plan period. 

According to the International Harm Reduction Association (IHRA) an NGO, there are at least 33 countries and territories that uphold the death penalty law on illicit drugs. At least 10 countries have the mandatory death penalty for any form of drugs abuse. 

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