Iran Drug Executions Fall by 99% Following Legal Amendment

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The implementation of the death penalty for drug offences has all but ended in Iran, although human rights advocates continue to express concern at the judicial system’s response to drugs.

One person has been executed for drug offences in Iran since the beginning of 2018, while at least 112 were killed by the state for such crimes during the same period in 2017, according to non-profit organisation Iran Human Rights (IHR). This dramatic shift is largely the result of an amendment to the national drug legislation that came into force in November 2017.

As TalkingDrugs has reported, the amendment did not remove the death penalty from law books; rather, it significantly raised the minimum quantity of drug that a person must be found with before they can be sentenced to death. Iranian law broadly splits drugs into two categories; processed/chemical drugs, and natural drugs. For the former category, which includes heroin and cocaine, the quantity needed to be possessed to allow the death penalty rose from 30 grams to two kilograms. For "natural" drugs, such as cannabis and opium, the equivalent quantity rose from five kilograms to 50 kilograms.

Additionally, people can still face the death penalty for certain other drug offences that do not take quantity into account. This includes people who “exploit minors below 18 years old [when trafficking drugs], carry or draw firearms while committing drug-related crimes, or have a related previous conviction of the death penalty or a jail sentence of more than 15 years or life in prison”, according to the Middle East Eye. The law also allows people to be executed for being the “leader” of a drug trafficking group, as was the conviction of Kiomars Nosuhi, the one man executed for drug offences in Iran this year.

The IHR have responded to the amendment’s consequences with cautious optimism, but remain highly critical of what they see as a repressive and corrupt judicial system.

“We welcome the significant reduction in the use of the death penalty and hope that this trend will continue towards complete abolition,” said IHR spokesperson Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, “however, we have several serious concerns regarding the process of implementation of the new amendment, including bribery in the Judicial system, insufficient capacity to handle a large number of cases, and lack of a monitoring organ overlooking the process.”

In a newly-published report, IHR reveals harrowing testimony from the family members of people incarcerated for drug offences in Iran, highlighting the major hurdles that drug policy reform – and broader judicial reform – still face. Allegations of torture-induced confessions are common, and the country’s adherence to the rule of law is ranked 80th among 113 countries, according to the World Justice Project.

Iran is one of 33 countries – including China, Saudi Arabia, and the United States - that retain the death penalty for drug offences, despite the practice being illegal under international law.