The Fate of the Bill for the Elimination of the Death Penalty for Drug Criminals
In recent months, the subject of reducing the death penalty for drug traffickers, presented by the Islamic Consultative Assembly’s (“Majless”) Legal and Judicial Commission and passed by the Islamic Consultative Assembly last week, had become the focus of fierce debate.
The Plan passed with 165 votes in favor. Commander Ali Moayyedi, Chief of the Headquarters for the Fight Against Illicit Drugs, believes, however, that only 3.5 percent of the population make up those that are harmed by drugs, and only .5 percent are drug traffickers; 96 percent of the general population has been ignored, and Majless has only taken that .5 percent of traffickers into account. The Majless representatives’ vote, passing the Plan to Incorporate A Single Article to the Law on the Fight Against Illicit Drugs, limits the implementation of the death penalty for drug criminals to certain cases. In other words, from now on, an individual who engages, even for the first, in the traffic of 50 kilograms of opium, the production and distribution of one kilogram of industrial drugs, and transportation and possession of 2 kilograms of industrial drugs, as well as a person with a prior conviction of 15 years imprisonment who is arrested once again, will definitely be sentenced to death. This law applies to five thousand drug criminals sentenced to death and currently in prison, and their lives are spared after the passage of this law. In a conversation with experts, “Iran” [newspaper] discusses the Law for the Reduction of the Death Penalty for Drug Traffickers and the consequences of showing leniency in confronting drug traffickers.
Saman Niknejad, jurist, who supports reducing the punishment for drug traffickers, states: “In a report published last week, members of the Islamic Consultative Assembly’s Legal and Judicial Commission announced that judges do not like issuing death sentences and try to avoid issuing or implementing them as much as possible, by suspending or reducing the sentence or using other punishments. What doubt is there then, that the Law for the Fight Against Illicit Drugs is in need of modification as far as the section on death sentences is concerned? All one needs to do is to go to the Revolutionary Court and see the long line of the poor, downtrodden defendants in order to realize that drug criminals are very different than the portrait people have painted of the drug trafficker in their minds, which is mostly the product of Mafia movies.”
Regarding the effectiveness of reducing the death penalty on drug trafficking, Niknejad explains: “Although one cannot deny that there are those drug traffickers whose actions have gone beyond drug trafficking - since they use weapons and operate in gangs, in addition to the large extent of the work (and this new law deals with them separately) – [one must bear in mind,] however, that transporters, buyers, sellers, and other perpetrators of drug-related crimes are generally people from the dispossessed and lower strata of society, deprived of an education and sufficient financial means, and engaged in buying and selling drugs as a result of helplessness (even if, at times, the volume of drugs recovered from them [is large enough to] result in a death penalty; the judges’ lack of desire to issue death sentences is a reflection of that.”
Commenting on the Headquarters for the Fight Against Illicit Drugs’ assertion that drug traffickers are only half a percent of the population and this new law creates unease in and inflames society, Niknejad says: “Although the concerns of those opposed to the bill is understandable, I must say that, when courts are hesitant and judges do not wish to issue death sentences, it follows that this punishment is facing uncertainty, and as a result, there is a hope among drug traffickers, especially those who are helpless and from the lower classes of society, that they will not be executed. The existing law, therefore, has lost its intended effect of deterrence through harsh punishment.
It is a well-known principle of criminology that if a crime carries a very harsh punishment but the perpetrators believe that there is little chance that they would be subjected to it, the deterrent effect of such punishment is much less than when the punishment is less harsh but the perpetrators know that they will definitely be sentenced to that punishment if they commit the crime.”
He adds: “We are not looking for absolute justice in Ta’zir punishments (which are not prescribed by the Koran and are devised in accordance with prevailing interests and expediency) but rather for society’s long-term interests, and what matters in evaluating a punishment, is its effectiveness and the utility derived from it.”
Mohammad Reza Foroughi, the adviser to the Headquarters for the Fight Against Illicit Drugs’ Deputy Chief, is opposed to the Law Incorporating a Single Article to the Law for the Fight Against Illicit Drugs, and believes that it goes against the spirit of the Law for the Fight Against Illicit Drugs. He tells Iran [newspaper]: “The truth is that neither Commander Moayyedi nor I, do not like or agree with the death penalty and its implementation. We are, [however], opposed to undermining the spirit of the Law for the Fight Against Illicit Drugs. 18 of the Law for the Fight Against Illicit Drugs’ articles were drafted by the Expediency Council after a 25-year period spent utilizing the experiences and the opinions of various experts, and upon much modification in terms of general and macro policies for combating illicit drugs, and upon the Supreme Leader’s approval, one article of which, emphasizes decisiveness in combating illicit drugs.”
According to Foroughi, “it is stated in the definition of decisiveness in combating illicit drugs, that fighting drugs in the realm of combat, consists of a process the first tier of which is tracking and detecting crimes by the police, then prosecution and issuance of a sentence in court, and lastly, punishment. But no more than half a percent of the population is involved in and profits from drug crimes. Furthermore, prison statistics indicate that a considerable portion of criminals have committed petty crimes of distribution, possession, and transportation of drugs, and as the Judiciary’s spokesperson has noted, there are 5300 individuals sentenced to death or awaiting execution. Given the foregoing, is this number more than half a percent of the country’s entire population?”
Emphasizing that our country is located right next to the epicenter of drug production, he explains: “The pressure and volume of drugs coming into the country has certainly not decreased in the last 35 years. With that in mind, can we put aside the decisiveness that is the spirit of the Law and move toward leniency toward drug traffickers? We cannot say that we [are faced with] a foreign entity whose job is to manufacture drugs, and drug traffic has constantly been on the increase, and at the same time adopt a lenient posture. If the cycle of production decreases, we will definitely revise our laws and decrease the level of combat.”
Foroughi believes capital punishment has a deterrent effect [and says] “why should we disregard a provision of the law which is its spirit of decisiveness, and show flexibility when the conditions of drug trafficking have not changed? We are forced to intensify the fight because not only has opium production not decreased, but the threat of the NPS’s (hallucinogens like “Gol” and marijuana) through our borders is now a very serious issue. This indicates that not only has the threat of drugs not decreased but in some cases, we have not devised appropriate punishments for NPS traffickers. Drug traffickers are an active and dynamic bunch and any legal void results in the entry of more and new drugs into the country.”
The adviser to the Headquarters for the Fight Against Illicit Drugs’ Deputy Chief alludes to long-term prison sentences instead of the death penalty and says: “Let’s assume we reduce the punishment for certain crimes and substitute long-term jail sentences for the death penalty; do our prisons have the capacity to hold so many criminals? Our prisons’ capacity has not increased in the past 20 years, and only one mandatory camp has been created in the last 9 years (and that was only last year). If we prescribe long prison sentences, the number of those who remain in prison for long periods will also increase; for instance, a prisoner will remain incarcerated for 25 years instead of 4. Additionally, if we add the number of new prisoners to this number, we will face very serious issues.” According to Foroughi, “Majless has decreased judicial authorities’ level of decisiveness in dealing with drug criminals and has destroyed the phases in implementation of harsh punishments; instead, it has clung to the third layer, that is the layer which has committed the worst crime, i.e. the drug trafficker, without taking into consideration society’s health and well-being and that of individuals involved with drug use.”