Actions Speak Louder Than Words in Iran’s Death Penalty Debate, Says Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi
Despite statements from some Iranian officials doubting the value of capital punishment, no action has been taken to end or reduce the high number of executions in the country, Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.
“Unfortunately, for years Iran’s judicial officials have repeated statements in response to protests by the United Nations and human rights organizations without really responding. In other words, whenever countries criticize Iran for having the highest number of executions in the world after China, the Iranian government resorts to repeating statements suggesting that they are trying to end capital punishment, but don’t actually do anything about it,” said Ebadi on the 14th World Day Against the Death Penalty, on October 10, 2016.
“I hope, unlike previous years, Iran will go further than words and introduce a practical plan to reduce executions.”
Ebadi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, was responding to comments made on October 8 by Mohammad Javad Larijani, the head of the Iranian Judiciary’s Human Rights Council, who supports the death penalty, but said he agrees with ending it for petty drug traffickers.
“I am in favor of changing the law, but that does not mean we should stop the fight against drug-trafficking,” said Larijani, adding that 93 percent of hangings in Iran were for drug-related crimes.
Larijani, the brother of Judiciary Chief Ali Sadegh Larijani, continued: “We have an 800-km border with Afghanistan and the production of opium in Afghanistan has increased 40 times since NATO’s invasion. The death penalty should be limited to drug kingpins and if we do this, the number of executions will fall immediately. Of course, this is currently being debated [in Parliament], but if we are realistic we can make it happen. No one should think that Iran will weaken her resolve in the fight against drug-trafficking, but we are changing tactics to make it more practical.”
However, Larijani also recently called for the executions of drug traffickers to be carried out with greater speed.
“Naturally, executions are not an ideal solution, but we need to act quickly and firmly against harms to society and the destruction of families [caused by drugs],” said Larijani on September 29, 2016. “I ask prosecutors across the country to carry out executions as soon as the verdicts are issued.”
Ebadi, a lawyer who headed the now banned-Defenders of Human Rights Center (DHRC) in Iran before it was disbanded by the government and she was forced to leave the country, noted that if the Islamic Republic was sincere about ending capital punishment, it would not have condemned human rights activist Narges Mohammadi to prison for being a member of the DHRC.
“If Iran truly intends to end the death penalty for drug traffickers, then why have they condemned my colleague Narges Mohammadi to 10 years in prison for opposing capital punishment and being a member of DHRC? Aren’t they just trying to deceive the international community with their words?”
In addition to drug traffickers, the execution of suspected political activists on national security charges have also increased, added Ebad.
“Unfortunately, the Iranian government uses the death penalty against individuals accused of national security and political crimes, and in the past year the number of these executions has increased. We have seen individuals being hanged for minor charges such as political opposition to the state, or for waging war against the state. There have been two mass executions of political prisoners this year,” she said.
In 2015 Iran executed 1,052 people—the highest per capita execution rate in the world.
According to Jalil Rahimi Jahanabadi, a member of the Iranian Parliament’s Legal and Judicial Committee, more than 150 members of Parliament have signed a proposal to amend the law to make it harder to condemn drug-related criminals to death.
“The large majority of those who have been executed or are on death row are petty [drug] dealers who are first-time offenders and their deaths harm families,” said Jahanabadi on October 4, 2016. “In essence, we are proposing to add an amendment to the current law for fighting drugs which states that the death penalty would apply if certain conditions are met, such as carrying and using a gun, or being an international drug kingpin, or having a commuted death sentence and repeating the crime,” he added.
“There are a lot of people waiting to be hanged right now and the question is whether all these executions carried out so far have stopped the spread of drugs or not? If there haven’t been any benefits, we need to think of alternative punishments,” he added.
In March 2016, the UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, criticized the high number of executions in Iran for non-violent drug-related offenses in a report, noting that changes in Iran’s drug laws in 2010 increased to 17 the number of drug offenses that could be punished by death.
Iran is also one among a handful of countries still sentencing people to death for crimes they allegedly committed as juveniles.
According to the International Covenant on Civil Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it is illegal to execute someone for crimes committed under the age of eighteen. Iran is party to both treaties.