Iran Eases Death Penalty for Drug Crimes, Saving Potentially Thousands of Lives

Iran’s Islamic Shariah law stipulates capital punishment for a wide range of crimes, including murder, rape, child molestation, sodomy and drug trafficking. The overhaul, which comes amid both domestic and international pressure, is remarkable as the country’s hard-line dominated judiciary in most cases does not amend laws it considers crucial, such as the one for capital punishment.

The number of executions in Iran had already dropped 42 percent in 2016, according to Amnesty International, from 977 to 567.

Based on the new amendment, only those distributing more than 50 kilograms of narcotics like opium, 2 kilograms of heroin or 3 kilograms of crystal meth will be sentenced to death. There is no capital punishment for marijuana possession. Before the reform, possessing 5 kilograms of opium or 30 grams of heroin was a capital offense.

Ms. Sotoudeh, the activist, said she was concerned, however, that individual judges might try to circumvent the new law.

“For example in 2013 it was approved that criminals under 18 cannot be executed unless the judge can verify the maturity of mind of the convicted, but my client, Ali Reza Tajik was executed in Shiraz although he was minor with no maturity in mind,” she said. “So we must be vigilant that the new law is implemented thoroughly and nobody for drug trafficking crimes is not executed anymore even if he has been already sentenced to death.”

Iran’s Drug Control Headquarters spoke out against the new legislation, warning it would cause a surge in drug-related crime. Drug abuse is common in Iran, where the youth unemployment rate is over 40 percent.

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