Proper implementation of Iran’s recent changes to its penal code would save the lives of 5,000 people currently facing capital punishment for drug offenses in the country. After China, Iran executes more people than any other country in the world, and the majority of those sentenced to death are convicted of drug-related crimes.
Iran amended its penal code in 2016, replacing the death penalty with life imprisonment or fines for a number of drug related offenses. Earlier this month, the head of the Iranian judiciary announced that people awaiting execution for these crimes were entitled to have their cases reviewed.
Iran’s new amendment does not eliminate the use of the death penalty for all drug offenses; distribution of over 50 kilograms of opium, 2 kilograms of heroin or 3 kilograms of crystal meth will still be punishable by death.
The United Nations opposes the use of the death penalty for drug related crimes and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has repeatedly reiterated that international law limits the application of the death penalty to the “most serious crimes”, which does not include drug sale, use or trafficking. Despite this, over 30 countries around the world continue to use capital punishment for drug offenses, executing thousands of people a year.
Far too many people have lost their lives to the drug war, including at the hands of their own state. Iran should commute the sentences of the 5,000 people awaiting executions and should eliminate the death penalty for all drug offenses. Capital punishment for drug offenses does not deter drug use, is a violation of international law, and is inhumane.
Hannah Hetzer is the senior policy manager of the Americas for the Drug Policy Alliance.