|Iran: Medieval and barbaric punishments|
Iran, which puts more people to death every year than any other country in the world but China, is debating a measure that could significantly cut the number of executions, local news outlets reported on Tuesday. But the bill seems certain to face considerable opposition from hard-liners in the judiciary.
A newly installed Parliament, thought to be more liberal than its predecessor but, until now, unwilling to take any unorthodox steps, is considering a bill that would abolish the death penalty for drug smugglers, who account for a large majority of those executed. While the government does not release figures on capital punishment, the local news media said that 950 people had been hanged in 2015. Human rights groups say the total could have been as high as 1,500, and the United Nations put the number at nearly 1,000.
Possession of as little as 30 grams of heroin is enough under Iranian law to face execution by hanging. Nevertheless, drug addiction and smuggling are rampant, officials acknowledge.
"We want to eliminate the death penalty for those criminals who act out of desperation," Yahya Kamalpour, a reformist lawmaker, told the semiofficial ISNA news agency. "We need a scientific and not an emotional approach to this problem."
In a sign of changing attitudes toward capital punishment, public hangings have become rare, and those that do take place are usually sparsely attended.
Representatives of the conservative judiciary have signaled that they will resist any effort to change Iran's penal code, which they believe reflects Islamic values and culture. They emphasize that these values supersede even universal human rights and cannot be changed.
Anticipating the bill's introduction, the head of the judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, called criticism of capital punishment "inappropriate." Speaking with the semiofficial Fars news agency last week, he said, "If the judiciary had not taken a tough stance, the situation would have been very bad, and drugs would have been available even at traditional medicine stores."
Even if it were to win approval from the Parliament, the bill would still need to be confirmed by the Guardian Council, which is dominated by hard-liners. The position of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last word on such changes, is unclear.
Conservatives said they doubted that the measure could survive the determined opposition of the judiciary. "Be sure they won't accept such a bill when the judiciary opposes it," said Hamidreza Taraghi, an analyst with strong ties to the hard-line faction. "The only wish of the parliamentarians is to please the West."
The proposal is one of the first provocative plans to emerge from the new Parliament, which was installed in August after elections in May. Although no political faction holds a majority, the consensus was that the influence of hard-liners on the assembly was not as strong as it had been.
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