New Execution Restriction Law in Iran
Following the ratification of legislation by the Islamic Parliament regarding amendment of drugs crimes law, was on 19 October approved by the Guardian Council finally after years of efforts of Iranian NGOs, legislators and human rights experts. With the ratification of this law the number of executions will dramatically drop in Iran, because most executions in Iran are related to drugs crimes. The Deputy Speaker of the Parliament has estimated that approximately 4,000 prisoners who are in death row, will have their lives spared in view of the precedence of the new law.
History of Heavy Sentences for Drugs Crimes
The fight against drugs is one of the most important issues in Iran, which annually imposes heavy financial and material costs. According to the announcement of the Interior Minister, drug traffickers make 5 billion dollars per year, which is approximately 5 percent of the national budget. The Police Superintendent says that till the end of 2016, 4000 policemen had been killed and 12,000 injured in the fight against drugs. As well as these figures, the 43 percent level of the figures for drugs criminals in relation to the total number of prisoners has also added to these figures.
These issues have resulted in the legislator throughout different periods to apply heavy sentences that include capital punishment to fight the entry and exit and distribution of drugs. In June 1980, the Revolutionary Council, harshened the punishment for drugs criminals where in some instances capital punishment had been foreseen as punishment and in 1981 with the addition of a clause to its article, the jurisdiction of the definition of drugs increased. In November 1988, the Expediency Council ratified the Fight against Drugs Acct, and capital punishment became inclusive to 15 various scenarios.
In 1997, this law was again amended by the Expediency Council, but nothing changed with regards to capital punishment. In December 2010, the Expediency Council once again amended the Amendment of the Fight against Drugs Act, but this time too, the stopping of executions or reduction had not been foreseen, but the sphere of capital punishment was increased to include individuals who use children or mentally ill individuals to commit crimes and also organize and manage drug gangs and make investments. Also the sphere of the definition of drugs increased and also actions were foreseen for the treatment of addicts and their supplementary benefits. Also addicts who take steps to get treatment became exempt from prosecution. Ultimately in October this year with the amendment of the Fight against Drugs Act, the Parliament deemed only 3 situations where capital punishment would apply to drugs crimes.
Efforts to Remove Capital Punishment from Drugs Crimes
In the recent years Iranian NGOs have tried hard to get the law changed. Many field and academic studies have been conducted to this aim, and governmental and nongovernmental organizations and held various campaigns. These include the Judiciary’s High Council for Human Rights, the Fight Against Drugs Department, the campaign in support of the commuting of capital punishment to life imprisonment, the Imam Ali Society regarding Juvenile Criminals, the Jurisprudence Association of Iran, and the Organization for Defending Victims of Violence as one of the NGOs active in the campaign to change the capital punishment of drug traffickers law, made extensive efforts for dialogue with Judiciary officials and the Parliament. Several meetings with officials provided the opportunity for the ODVV and sister organizations so that convince the decision makers in the Parliament and government that capital punishment was a weak deterrent for the reduction of drug trafficking.
Furthermore, in the recent years man academics and law researchers have complained about the Drug Crimes Punishment Law and called for its amendment. They believed that capital punishment for drug traffickers and couriers caused the carrier of small amounts problems and did not result in the apprehension of drugs trafficking bosses.
It seems that capital punishment in practice is not effective in crime prevention. Even the children and family members of those that have been executed continue on this path, because of perhaps the problems that they experience following the execution of a family member. Therefore it is not deemed as a deterrent.
In amending this law, the observation of Sharia laws in the carrying out of the punishment of those convicted of drugs offense was necessary, because Iranian laws are based on Islamic Sharia laws. The spokesperson of the Parliament’s Legal and Judicial Commission, Hassan Nowrouzi says: “there are differences of opinion for the punishment of production, distribution and importing of drugs. Some believed that these individuals no matter in what capacity that they conduct activities are eligible for capital punishment and some others, particularly Imam Khomeini believed that the religious jurisprudence of capital punishment include corruptions that are alongside war against God (Moharebeh) , therefore some are for the execution of these types of criminals and some are against.
Some jurists believe that usually those get involved in this crimes who are not the main traffickers and for receiving small amounts of money as truck drivers, become transporter of drugs and unfortunately heavy sentences are automatically dished out in this regard.
In view of these criticisms, a proposal with the aim of reduction of capital punishment cases and effectiveness and deterrence was brought to the attention of Parliament experts and jurists. But in spite of holding numerous meetings with those in charge of fighting drugs crimes and even experts from the Expediency Council did not reach a consensus because of big disagreements. One of the important disagreement points was the fear of committing a crime becoming easier with the removal of capital punishment and lack of deterrence from other lesser crimes. For example the National Security Commission rejected this proposal because it believed that heavier sentences played a deterrence role.
This proposal was once again prepared by a number of members of Parliament in the 10th Islamic Parliament and placed in the working agenda of the Parliament Judicial and Legal Commission. Based on field and communication studies which it conducted with the people (particularly in regions that suffered the most executions) and also carrying out some amendments and enclosing expertise viewpoints, the Commission sent the proposal to the open session of the Parliament. But after the adoption of the generalities of the proposal, many amended comments regarding paragraphs of this article resulted in the proposal being resent to the Judicial and Legal Commission for more technical amendments.
After the referral of this proposal the situation for the offenders for the commuting of the death sentences changed in the Judicial and Legal Commission in a way that the weight condition for the production, distribution, carrying, holding and importing of drugs got completely omitted from capital punishment. On this basis, capital punishment only included the leaders of drug trafficking groups and those who used firearms in committing these crimes.
The removal of the paragraph in this proposal with regards to production, distribution, carrying, holding and importing of drugs to determine capital punishment caused numerous reactions and objections; in a way that those in charge of the fight against drugs, Judiciary and Justice Ministry officials and the Attorney General of the country as opponents through dialogue with the board of directors tried to send this to the Judicial and Legal Commission for amendment for a second time. In fact the opponents stressed on the determination of the weight as criteria for specification of cases where capital punishment should apply. On this basis the proposal to attach an article to the Fight against Drugs Law was for the second time sent to the Commission and amendments were done in the presence of the Attorney General and deputies from the Judiciary. With these amendments capital punishment for the production, distribution, carrying, holding and importing of 100Kg of traditional drugs and 2Kg of industrial drugs was considered and approved.
Approval of Restrictions on Capital Punishment
According to the new law, three groups of those convicted of drugs offences are executed, and the rest of the offenders to whom previously capital punishment was dished out will instead be sentenced to 25 to 30 years imprisonment. The first group are traffickers who use firearms while trafficking drugs and or carry any type of firearms which this group of traffickers are examples of war against God and will be sentenced to death.
The second group are those traffickers who form bands or gangs and they traffick drugs in the group form, who according to the recent law these individuals will be sentenced to death. Furthermore, traffickers who use children or mentally ill individuals for trafficking drugs are included in this article and will be sentenced to death. The spokesman for the Judicial and Legal Commission of the Parliament in explaining about the third group of traffickers who will be sentenced to death said: “Traffickers who have drug-related criminal records that are longer than 15 years, in the event of repeat offence will be included in capital punishment sentences.”
The current law has been ratified following months of studies and utilisation of nationwide academic researches. The direction of the new law is headed towards the be constructive for the drug offenders, because the experiences of the previous years showed that not only did this law not have a deterrent effect, but the families of those who were executed on drugs convictions, were unwillingly drawn into drugs trafficking due to the history of the head of household. The spokesmen of the legal Commission said the aim of this law is the reintegration of drug traffickers back to society.
Need for International Support
In spite of all of this, there are still doubts and concerns from some defenders of victims of drugs. In view of the heavy financial, economic and physical burden for the prevention of the transit of drugs to Europe, it seems necessary to ask the following question, how much technical assistance can international organizations and NGOs that criticise the execution of drugs criminals can provide with regards to reduction of armed clashes on the borders with Afghanistan and reduction of the human casualties of the border patrols of Iran, so that the concerns of the domestic critics are also replied, and also prevent the increase in the volume of drug trafficking in Iran?
Particularly in view of the UN Convention against Illicit Trafficking in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances in 1988, member states are committed to cooperate for further performance in the fight against various dimensions of drugs trafficking and fight against drugs trafficking is the collective duty of all states and reaching this objective requires a coordinated action within international cooperations framework.
By: Negar Paidar
MA in Human Rights