Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

Promoting tolerance and justice through knowledge and understanding
Death Penalty

Sociologist Abroshan: Iran's "Futile, Non-Scientific, and Reactionary" Drug War Needs Reform

Tasnim / Translation by ABC
Tasnim / Translation by ABC
February 8, 2017
Newspaper article

Our social system has adopted the punishment of criminals after commission of the crime as a preventive [measure and] policy. This trend, based [essentially] on emotional [decision-making], has not had the desired results in spite of numerous [instances of implementing] the death penalty.

According to a Tasnim News Agency report, Mostafa Abroshan, sociologist and a member of the Iran Criminology Society, has written and submitted a piece in response to the statements made by the Director General of the Headquarters for the Fight Against Illicit Drugs asking to put a stop to the Plan for the Reduction of the Death Penalty for Drug Traffickers, as follows:

“Recently, Mr. Alizadeh, the honorable Director General of the Headquarters for the Fight Against Illicit Drugs stated in an interview that, with the presentation of the “Plan for the Reduction of the Death Penalty for Drug Traffickers” in the Majless (“Parliament”), there is a fear that all of the scientific achievements of the last 38 years in combating drugs will be lost. [This statement] begs a serious question: How can one consider this eliminatory and reactionary method, which has thus far had no accomplishments whatsoever, to be a scientific one, and keep insisting upon [its implementation]? It must be noted that the philosophy behind all punishments is reform of the criminal and crime prevention. The scientific method tells us to ask ourselves this fundamental question: What effect has the death penalty for drug crimes had on [changing] the attitudes of drug traffickers and those who engage in the sale and purchase of narcotics? Why are we still witnessing drug trafficking in Iran in spite of harsh punishments and the execution of drug traffickers? Scientific method tells us to address the motives for and the roots of crime commission rather than putting excessive emphasis on individual responsibility. The scientific methods, upon which you insist, tell us that after four decades of trial and error, the current method has not had the necessary efficacy, and that a systematic mechanism for the reform thereof must be adopted and implemented.

Allow me to state that the Amendment to the Law on the Fight Against Illicit Drugs that was passed by the honorable Islamic Consultative Assembly (“Majless” or Parliament), has not only been the subject of precise study, but it is also the result of [and the response to] 38 years of futile, non-scientific, and reactionary combat, harmful to society. In fact, not only is individual reform effectively not possible in the physical elimination method, but, given that this social ill remains at the top of the list of crimes committed, we can also conclude that [the method] has also not yielded the desired results in terms of crime prevention.

In developed systems, in order to keep individuals from going astray, [multi-level] efforts are made among multiple institutions to get rid of the motives [for committing crimes] in potential criminals. Our social system, however, has adopted the punishment of criminals after commission of the crime as a preventive policy, and unfortunately, this trend, which is based [essentially] on emotional [decision-making], has not had the desired results in spite of numerous executions, because as long as the responsibility for crime prevention – which is an issue that must be dealt with and implemented by multiple institutions – lies solely with the Judiciary Branch, and the only thing that is on the agenda is punishment of [criminals], we will not be rid of this anomic situation in society where crime is rampant.

A considerable portion of our society’s ills stems from incorrect theoretical frameworks that have become the basis for action. The chaos in legal and penal issues is a result of disregard for the sociological perspective prior to criminalization of deviant or aberrant conduct. Unfortunately, in such a situation, social deviations are reduced to their psychological element, with the deviant person being considered a criminal because he/she has free will [and therefore a choice], since laws are based on a person’s individual [criminal] responsibility and the aberrant behavior of a social outcast is considered to be the result of his/her will.

The prevailing method in the legal system is based on the presumption that an individual can choose not to commit a criminal act, whereas the criminal act is the result of a series of social and family conditions imposed upon a person; in other words, society has severely limited an individual’s choice. It must be noted that individual choice is the result of subjective [thinking] and the individual’s interpretation of the situation in which he/she finds himself/herself. Social coercion is what makes an individual react, and in effect, indirectly leads the individual to deviating from standards he/she deems unattainable.

Allow me to say that the motive for deviating from social norms is rooted in social structure, and in fact, certain structural problems are the reasons why a segment of the population is deprived of entering society and attaining a [desired] special status, thereby losing their impetus for conforming to social norms. Those who work in this field, limit the commission of the large volume of crimes to outcast groups [blaming them for the crimes], albeit indirectly, and pay no attention to structural factors and their relationship to criminal motive.

The time has come for you to accept that the combination of joblessness and huge gaps between different social classes is a significant factor in shaping motives for deviant [behavior] in the mind of [marginalized and] deprived citizens, thrown out of the competition [for success] in society. Any punishment in the hopes of having a preventive effect will be meaningless so long as these motives exist in the mind [of an individual]. In fact, we cannot prevent crime and deviant behavior through various aggravated punishments, because so long as the deviant mindset exists, and there are no other choices available [to the deprived], deviant behavior will be unavoidable.

If we take cursory look at our own penal system, we will notice that [in spite of] the occurrence of the highest number of crimes and the highest number of executions in the realm of narcotics, not only has the sale and purchase of drugs not decreased, on the contrary, it has been on the rise.

It must be noted that two types of people watch executions: Regular people who have no criminal motives at all, and those who have not been caught in spite of committing the same crime [as the individuals being hanged]. In fact, not only does this latter group not draw a lesson from [watching the execution], but in order to avoid getting caught, they actually try to change their criminal modus operandi and better manage their criminal conduct through varied and more modern methods and means. In other words, if we look at the process whereby crime occurs [objectively], we realize that crime keeps reinventing itself through precise and diverse means. Therefore, we must reach the inevitable conclusion that the severity of [a particular] punishment and the death penalty will not be effective and the question will be moot as far as individuals who have criminal motives in their heads are concerned. In effect, executing drug traffickers might alleviate society’s pain and put people’s worries to rest as far as punishing criminals is concerned but has not had a preventive effect thus far. Joblessness is the mother of all corruptions and is the main cause for most social ills; we will be rid of the latter only when we have a burgeoning economy where everyone can reach their potentials based on their merits and where they can find their place in society. In other words, optimal employment and getting rid of unemployment, creating an effective social security system, equal social opportunity, and giving priority to the employment of street criminals, are among variables that must be put on the top of the current President’s agenda. Case by case support for those who have been harmed by social ills, without eliminating the grounds for [harmful conduct] which has brought society to its sickly condition, seems futile.