Iran’s new law for combating drugs will be implemented beginning Nov. 14. The law — passed by the Reformist majority parliament and approved by the conservative Guardian Council — is set to decrease the number of people executed in Iran, which leads the world in executions on a per capita basis. Agencies in Iran responsible for combating drug smuggling, however, have warned that the new law will increase drug use.
According to the law, those convicted of drug smuggling will be sentenced to time in prison instead of the death penalty and will be ordered to pay fines. The law itself does not completely ban the death penalty. Those caught smuggling a large amount of designated drugs — for instance, 3 kilograms (6.6 pounds) of heroin — can still be sentenced to death. Drug-smuggling leaders, those who carry arms, financiers of drug smuggling and those who use children under the age of 18 will still be subject to the death penalty. Still, according to most observers, the law will decrease the number of death penalties in Iran for drug-related offenses.
The Iran Drug Control Headquarters, which is tasked with drug addiction treatment, combating drug smuggling and preventing addiction, warned that the law will increase access and use of drugs in Iran. Parviz Afshar, spokesperson for the Drug Control Headquarters, said, “We believe that — for a country whose neighbor is the world’s largest producers of drugs [Afghanistan] — completely eliminating the death penalty is not possible.”
Afshar noted that a suitable replacement for the death penalty needed to be found rather than just prison time and fines. According to him, confiscating the property of drug smugglers should have been considered in the new law. He also warned that some drug smugglers are also involved in terrorism, money laundering and armed crimes.
Yahya Kamalipour, an Iranian parliament member and deputy president of parliament’s legal and judicial commission, explained his support for the bill. “For 20 years I have been a judge and prosecutor and I know well the situation of the prisons and the families of prisoners,” he said. “Ninety percent of the executions for drug offenses were smugglers who were forced to carry drugs due to a bad event such as dowry for their daughters or surgery for their mothers. We have taken the death penalty from these people. But [as far as] the prime agents and those who deserve the death penalty, this punishment will be implemented.”
The bill still leaves Iran’s hard-line judiciary — which only answers to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — enough leeway to interpret the law as they see fit. The head of Iran’s judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, has previously said that Iran would not eliminate the death penalty for drug smugglers, saying that without the death penalty the situation with drug use in Iran would be worse.
Iranian officials have been openly debating ending or reducing the death penalty for drug smuggling since December 2015, when 70 members of parliament proposed the bill. Mohammad Javad Larijani, the secretary of Iran’s Human Rights Council who has supported ending the death penalty for drug use, said that if Iran were to eliminate the death penalty for drug use, it would reduce the death penalty in Iran by 80%.