CHRI – A Parliamentary committee in Iran has blocked an attempt by security agencies to delay for a year a parliamentary vote on an amendment that could drastically reduce death penalty sentences for drug-related crimes.
“Unfortunately, some security and government agencies wrote a letter requesting that the final vote be delayed for a year,” Hassan Norouzi, a member of Parliament and spokesman for the Legal and Judicial Affairs Committee, told the Shargh newspaper on June 13, 2017.
“We explained to Parliament’s secretariat that there was no reason to put this bill on hold,” he said. “The committee worked on it with legal experts for six months. It is a good, solid plan.”
“If (opponents) have something to say, they should say it on the parliamentary floor as government representatives and we will give our replies,” added Norouzi.
When asked where the letter originated from, Norouzi said it was written by authorities “involved in (fighting) drugs.”
Legislators were scheduled to deliberate an amendment to the Law Against Drug Trafficking on June 7, but the letter by the security authorities resulted in the final vote being delayed until mid-July, when members of Parliament (MPs) return from their summer break.
If approved by Parliament and the Guardian Council, the amendment could spare the lives of 4,000 out of the 5,000 prisoners currently on death row in Iran for drug-trafficking related crimes by making the death penalty only applicable for “organized drug lords,” “armed traffickers,” “repeat offenders” and “bulk drug distributors.”
“Those who wanted the vote to be postponed for a year argued that the committee had not worked hard enough on the amendment,” Norouzi told Shargh on June 7.
He continued: “In fact, we drafted it after discussions with the prosecutor’s office, with authorities fighting against illicit drugs, the police and the Interior Ministry. If they have something to say, they should join the deliberations and tell legislators why they oppose the proposal. Then it will be up to the people’s representatives to decide. It was wrong to stop the proposal from being voted on, but we held some talks and it was decided to put it back on the voting track.”
Norouzi refused to identify any agencies by name, but the Iran Drug Control Headquarters (IDCH) has been a strong opponent of removing the death penalty as a punishment for low-level drug crimes.
Earlier this year, the IDCH’s Legal Affairs director Ali Alizadeh said stopping the amendment from being ratified was a “top priority” and called on the judiciary to intervene.
“Organized crime and drug enforcement experts believe if these unbalanced and unscientific reforms are implemented under the guise of human rights, society will be struck by a great wave of drug and other related crimes,” said Alizadeh on February 5, 2017.
Proponents of limiting the death penalty have pointed out the political and social costs of maintaining one of the highest per-capita execution rates in the world.
At least 567 people were executed in Iran in 2016, down 42 percent from the 977 who were in executed in 2015.
“The majority of executions are for drug-trafficking crimes and the Western countries and international organizations are taking political advantage of (the situation),” said MP Ezatollah Yousefian, in a parliamentary debate on November 23, 2016.
“This is extremely costly for our country,” he added. “Those who are being condemned to death are not traffickers in the true sense. The real traffickers are those who are managing the drug trade from hotels rooms in Ankara and Istanbul.”
In September 2016, the deputy director of the judiciary’s Human Rights Headquarters, Kazem Gharibabadi, said “About 93 percent of the executions in Iran are related to drugs. ”
A staunch opponent of limiting executions, Judiciary Chief Sadegh Larijani has advocated for the death penalty to be carried out at a faster pace.
“We don’t think that the laws concerning drug trafficking are revelations from God. They are man-made laws that have not had perfect results. But it’s wrong to say that executions have had no effect,” said Larijani on September 29, 2016. “If the Judiciary had not been strict, we would have been in a far worse situation.”
However, some hardliners have begun admitting that the death penalty has failed as a preventative measure against drug trafficking.
“We are looking to see what punishments can replace executions with greater effectiveness for certain criminals,” said Justice Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi on October 29, 2016.”
“Of course, the death penalty will still be enforced, but not to the extent we have today,” he added.