After Years of International Condemnation, Iran Revises Death Penalty Policy
Amendment to Drug Law Could Result in Drastically Reduced Execution Rate
After years of being pressured by the UN and other rights groups to reduce the country’s high execution rate, Iran’s Parliament has passed an amendment to the Law Against Drug Trafficking that could save thousands of prisoners currently on death row.
“After the Parliament addressed one of our objections and clarified some ambiguities, the Guardian Council deliberated and approved the measure,” the council’s spokesman, Abbasali Kadkhodaei, told the semi-official Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA) on October 18, 2017.
The Guardian Council is a body of six clerics and six jurists that vets laws and elections for conformity with Islamic principles. The amendment was approved by Parliament on October 14.
Iran maintains one of the highest per-capita execution rates in the world. At least 567 people were executed in 2016, down 42 percent from the 977 who were in executed in 2015. The vast majority of executions were for petty drug-trafficking crimes, including for carrying small amounts of illegal drugs.
The amendment does not apply to non-drug-related crimes. Iran continues to execute people were sentenced to death as minors.
The scheduled execution of Amirhossein Pourjafar, who was convicted of rape and sentenced to death at 16-years-old, was postponed amid widespread condemnation on October 19, 2017.
According to the final version of the amendment, the death penalty in drug-related cases will now be limited to drug lords, armed traffickers, criminals with prior convictions resulting in more than 15 years imprisonment and those who enslave children to sell drugs.
“Most of the people who have been executed in the country were mainly small-time traffickers, while the profits went to gang leaders living comfortably abroad,” said the deputy chairman of the parliamentary Legal and Judicial Affairs Committee, Mohammad Kazemi, on October 18.
On September 10, committee member Yahya Kamalipour said the amended law would be applied retroactively, and could “save at least 4,000 prisoners convicted of drug violations.”
Committee member Bahman Taherkhani estimated on October 18 that the number of executions in Iran could drop by 80 percent as a result of the amendment.
The proposal for the amendment had been floating in Iran’s Parliament since 2015. Many judicial authorities opposed limits on the death penalty, claiming limitations would weaken Iran’s resolve in the fight against the country’s growing drug crisis.
In June 2017, the Legal and Judicial Affairs Committee blocked an attempt by security agencies to delay for a year a parliamentary vote on the amendment.
The agencies were not identified by name, but the Iran Drug Control Headquarters (IDCH) had strongly opposed reducing the death penalty as a punishment for low-level drug crimes.
The UN, other international rights-monitoring groups, and human rights activists inside the country have heavily criticized Iran’s high execution rate.