70 Iranian MPs have signed a proposal that would see the death penalty eliminated for people convicted of non-violent drug offences.
The lawmakers, a minority in Iran's 290 parliamentarians, signed the bill on Tuesday, the first time such a proposal has come directly from Iranian politicians.
At least 69 % of the almost 700 executions carried out in the first 6 months of 2015 were for non-violent drugs offences, in a country where being found in possession of as little 30 grams of certain drugs merits the death penalty.
This year has seen a huge spike in drugs-related executions, with campaigners saying more people have been put to death than in the preceding 2 decades.
Although liberal commenters in Iran welcomed Tuesday's bill, the text of which has not been made public, human rights campaigners have urged caution, warning that the move could be part of a push to secure renewed funding for a controversial UN anti-drugs programme.
"It is interesting that this has come out of the parliament [rather than the judiciary] - but it is too early to be optimistic," said Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, spokesperson for the Norway-based anti-death penalty group Iran Human Rights.
"The motion proposes removing the death penalty for drugs offences apart from when the suspect is armed. And this is the big question mark: authorities always say those they execute for drugs offences were armed, but in almost every case we have had access to this hasn't been the case."
The Iranian judiciary has previously proposed moves to end the death penalty for non-violent offences, but suffered a setback in March when the Interior Minister, Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, urged the courts not to show "mercy" to those convicted of drugs offences.
"Drug traffickers must be hanged and the judiciary should not have any mercy in dealing with these individuals," Fazli told a press conference, citing "pressure" on Iran to curtail the flow of narcotics into Europe.
Amiry-Moghaddam also suggested that the bill's timing was "no coincidence," with many UN-funded anti-drugs programmes due to end at the close of 2015.
Iran is a key player in the global war on drugs, and is part of programmes run by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) aimed at combatting cross-border trafficking.
The programme was mired in scandal a year ago, with protests over European states funnelled anti-drugs money into a country that regularly executes people for drugs offences, despite international law stipulating that the penalty should be used only for the "most serious crimes".
The UN project was not suspended, but many of its programmes will come to an end at the end of the year, with UNODC currently in talks to start up a new 5-year programme in Iran.
"Iranian authorities are under pressure - Western countries don't want to be associated with hundreds of drugs-related executions every year," said Amiry-Moghaddam, suggesting that the bill could be linked to negotiations over renewing the UNODC funding.
"Any change in the law, if this motion is really presented and the Guardian Council approves it, is a positive step. But we must keep in mind that the issue is much more complex."
Source: middleeasteye.net, December 11, 2015
Ground Shifts as 70 MPs in Iran Introduce Bill to End Executions for Drug Crimes
More than 70 Members of the Iranian Parliament have presented a bill that, if ratified by the full legislature and approved by the Council of Guardians (the constitutional body charged with approving legislation), could reduce the punishment for drug trafficking from death to life imprisonment.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran is paying a heavy price in the fight against drugs that are transported to Europe. The highest number of executions in the country are related to this issue. Therefore, a group of MPs have called for an end to capital punishment for drug-related crimes," Mir-Hadi Gharaseyyed Romiani, a Member of Parliament's Justice and Legal Affairs Committee, said on November 8, 2015.
He added that if the bill became law, the death penalty would be applied only for drug cases that involved armed trafficking.
"After this bill is ratified...a heavy load will be removed from the Judiciary's shoulder," Romiani was quoted as saying.
This is not the 1st time that Parliament is debating the possibility of ending the death penalty for drug-related offenses. The proposal was also brought up in the chamber a year ago but it did not move forward.
The largest number of executions in Iran involve drug-related crimes - more than 70 %, according to Mohammad Javad Larijani, Head of the Iranian Judiciary's Human Rights Council.
"My personal opinion is that there should be some practical changes to the laws related to the fight against drugs. This has to go through the legislative process but until then Westerners should respect our current laws," Mohammad Javad Larijani said in reference to US and Europe's criticism of Iran's extremely high number of executions. Iran has the highest per capita execution rate in the world.
The Islamic Republic of Iran has come under strong criticism from the UN and human rights organizations for carrying out the death penalty for drug-related offenses. In his March 2015 report, Ahmad Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in Iran, noted that changes in Iran's drug laws in 2010 increased to 17 the number of drug offenses that could be punished by death. As a result, in 2014 alone, 753 executions were carried out in Iran, the highest number in the past decade.
Human rights activists as well as legal experts have noted that Iran's tough anti-drug laws have not resulted in any reduction in drug-related crimes.
"A review of the number of drug-related executions must be conducted. We observe that, unfortunately, the issue [of drug trafficking] continues in our country. Therefore, we must say that intensifying punishments is not preventive," the prominent Iranian lawyer Nemat Ahmadi told the Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA) in April 2015.
Ahmadi added that even if Parliament and the Council of Guardians ratify the new law and abolish the death penalty for drug crimes, the bill would still need to pass an additional legislative hurdle in the Expediency Council (the body appointed by Iran's supreme leader that has supervisory power over all branches of government).
"More than 270,000 prisoners or 2/3 of the country's prison population is related to drug crimes and carrying out executions have not solved the problem," Ahmadi said.
Source: iranhumanrights.org, December 11, 2015