Iran drug law change could spare thousands on death row

Iran execution

Iran: Easing of deadly drugs laws may spare hundreds from gallows

Iran is softening a drug law and in turn would spare about 5,000 people now on death row for such charges.

Iran executes hundreds of people every year, mostly for drug offences. More than 500 people were executed in Iran in 2017, including at least five juvenile offenders.

In August, the Iranian parliament raised the threshold for a death sentence to a possession of nearly 110 pounds of opium, nearly 5 pounds of heroin or nearly 7 pounds of methamphetamine.

The new law retroactively "clarifies the fate of some 5,000 sentenced to death for drug trafficking", the Iran daily newspaper quoted Larijani as saying in a directive.

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Judiciary chief Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani on January 9 ordered judges to halt death sentences for some prisoners and to review their cases, the judiciary's Mizanonline news agency reported on January 10.

Neighboring Afghanistan produces 90 percent of the world's opium, which is extracted from poppy resin and refined to make heroin, and Iran is a major transit route for the drug to western Asia and Europe. Nearly 3 million Iranians are estimated to be addicted to hard drugs, out of a population of 80 million.

But the moratorium on executions for those found guilty of non-violent crimes - such as drug smuggling - is a victory for reformists and human rights advocates who fought for years to change Iran's draconian drug laws. "The Iranian authorities must stop using the death penalty for drug-related offences with a view to eventually abolishing it for all crimes", she continued.

"If implemented properly, this change in law will represent one of the most significant steps towards reduction in the use of the death penalty worldwide", he said.

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But he also expressed concern that those on death row might not be able to take advantage.

"Since most of those sentenced to death for drug offences belong to the most marginalised parts of Iranian society, it is not given that they have the knowledge and resources to apply for commuting their sentence".

Amiry-Moghaddam said that since November when the law was signed by the president, Hassan Rouhani, "nobody that we know of has been executed for such offences".

"Now Iran won't be the second country in the world, after China, for most executions", Nikbakht said. The majority were put to death for drug offences, according to the Guardian.

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Responding to news that Iran will implement amended drugs laws and remove capital punishment for some drug trafficking offences, Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director, said, "Iran's deadly anti-drugs campaign has had an enormous human toll over the years, resulting in gross human rights violations in the name of ill-conceived crime prevention policies".

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