More than 70 lawmakers signed a petition earlier this month proposing the abolition of the death penalty in unorganized drug trafficking crimes.
“If the plan is approved, the death penalty will apply only to organized drug crime, and offenses like ‘unarmed and nonviolent’ cases of drug trade will be exempted from capital punishment,” said Mir-Hadi Gharaseyyed Romiani, a member of the Majlis (Parliament) Judicial and Legal Commission.
Iran for decades has paid a heavy price in the battle against the illicit drugs, blamed partly on its geographical location as a major transit route for organized crime in drug trafficking from neighboring Afghanistan, the world’s opium capital, to Europe and beyond.
“The high number of executions in the country is mostly for drug crimes,” Romiani was quoted as saying by the Persian language newspaper ‘Sharq.’
“I am in favor of abolishing the death penalty for drug traffickers,” said Saeed Sefatiyan, former director general of Iran’s Drug Control Headquarters (IDCH).
Secretary of Iran’s Human Rights Council Mohammad Javad Larijani also said the high rate of executions is not acceptable. “It is sad that we are witnessing a large number of executions for drug-related crimes based on existing laws. If the proposal is approved, the number of executions can be reduced by 80%.” However, there are opponents to the proposal.
Iran’s anti-narcotics police chief, Ali Moayedi said abolition of the death penalty would lead to more criminals joining the lucrative drug trade. Over the past 35 years despite stringent laws, narcotics has sucked in more trade and traffickers.
Parviz Afshar, deputy head of the Iranian Drug Control Headquarters had recently said that the crisis had taken on a “national security” dimension, indicating that the seemingly unending campaign against narcotics has become more dangerous, complicated and costly.
Mohammad Ali Asfanany, another member of the Majlis Judicial and Legal Commission, said no parliamentary session has been devoted to the issue since the proposal was made.
He seemed rather skeptical that a decision will be taken anytime soon. “The issue is extremely sensitive and we must proceed carefully because of the sensitivities. Indeed it is a very tough task.”
More discussions and reviews by experts are needed to dissect all aspects of the issue and respond to questions by those opposed to the abolition of the death penalty. It is only the beginning, and it must not be rushed through, he said.
According to the newspaper, many of the offenders are young people who haven’t reached the legal age. Most of them were involved in drugs and related crimes “under emotional and financial duress.” Many were duped or coerced into carrying drugs across national borders, or forced by economic necessity into taking risks.
Some claim that the death penalty for drug smugglers is a summary execution, as the social and economic plight of the offender is not taken into consideration.
Iran is bordered to the east by Afghanistan, the biggest illicit opium producer in the world. Nearly 92% of the non-pharmaceutical-grade opiates on the world market originate in Afghanistan. In addition, it is also the largest producer of cannabis (mostly as hashish) in the world.
According to the International Harm Reduction Association (IHRA) an NGO, there are at least 33 countries and territories that uphold the death penalty law on illicit drugs.
At least 10 countries have the death penalty for drugs as a mandatory sanction. In 2013, around 549 people were believed to have been executed for trafficking in drugs.