Iran Under Pressure to Drop Death Penalty for Drug Offenses

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein on April 14 issued a statement appealing to Iran to halt executions for drug offenses until the country's parliament debates a new law that would eliminate the mandatory death penalty for drug-related crimes. The statements came in response to the hanging of five men over the weekend, three of them on charges of narcotics trafficking. In at least one of those cases, a man sentenced to death in 2012 for possession of crystal meth, there were serious concerns about the fairness of the trial and denial of the right to appeal. The statement noted that last year, at least 966 people were executed in Iran—the highest rate in more than two decades. The majority were hanged for drug offenses. At least four of those executed in 2015 were juveniles.

However, in January, members of parliament introduced a bill to amend the existing mandatory death penalty for drug offenses, providing for life imprisonment in such cases. It remains to be seen whether it will be approved by Iran's supposedly more moderate new parliament.

Said High Commissioner Zeid: "There have been encouraging signs from within Iran towards reform of the law, from the judiciary, the executive and the legislature and I hope the new parliament will adopt these changes. But it is unfortunate that executions for drug-related offenses—crimes that clearly do not meet the threshold under international human rights law for application of the death penalty—continue to be carried out in the meantime. Given the broadening recognition in Iran that the death penalty does not deter drug crime and that anti-narcotics laws need to be reformed, I call on Iran to take the important first step of instituting a moratorium on the use of the death penalty."

So far this year, 60 executions have reportedly been carried out in Iran. Zeid noted that this represents a drop compared to the same period last year. But Zeid also expressed serious concerns about the large number of juvenile offenders reported to be on death row in Iran. He urged the authorities to ensure that no one is executed for offenses committed under the age of 18. He stressed that there such executions violate international law, including in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iran ratified in 1975, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which it ratified in 1994.

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