MPs Approve Bill to Reduce Punishment for Drug Crimes

Iran for decades has paid a heavy price in the war against illicit drugs.
Iran for decades has paid a heavy price in the war against illicit drugs.

A bill was approved recently by the Majlis Legal and Judicial Commission to restrict the death penalty to drug lords and armed smugglers.

According to the bill’s revisions, criminals caught with weapons while smuggling narcotics will still face execution. But people caught selling or carrying drugs, are not armed and have not been in prison for a drug-related crime for at least 15 years, will be exempted from the gallows. Those under the age of 18 will not be sentenced to death for drug crimes, Fararu reported.

The bill should be passed in the open session of the Majlis and voted by a majority present in the chamber before being sent to the Guardian Council for final approval after which it becomes law, said Hassan Norouzi, spokesman of the commission.  

More than 100 lawmakers were involved in the revisions as a measure aimed against the growing number of executions in the country.

Norouzi added that if approved, the law will apply also to people who on death row.

Earlier in October, Mohammad Javad Larijani, secretary-general of the Iranian High Council for Human Rights, had indicated that the judiciary was reconsidering capital punishment for drug dealers  and may limit it to drug smugglers and drug lords. “This will cut the number of executions in the country.”

“The number of executions is high in Iran but all are in compliance with the law. But execution is not a good idea,” he was quoted as saying.

Almost 90% of the executions in Iran are related to drug crimes and 80% can be averted if the new bill becomes law.

 Earlier Debate

Last November, 147 of the 195 MPs present in the 290-member chamber voted on the single-urgency bill to discuss a proposal on an alternative to capital punishment for some drug-related crimes. Social scientists and legal experts have long held the view that death has not been a strong enough deterrent in curbing drug trade and the law needs major reforms.

A month later in December 2016, 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 by Iran’s anti-narcotics law.

 5,000 on Death Row

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

Investigations show most offenders are not the actual smugglers or ringleaders, but are  drug pushers or “carriers” who often get involved due to financial and emotional pressures.

The increased execution rate for drug-related offenses has not helped discourage or reduce drug crime prompting some officials to demand a review of the death penalty for all drug crimes armed trafficking not included. Iran for decades has paid a heavy price in the war 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.

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