In Brief

Iran’s drug law reform to save thousands from death row

Judicial ruling could spare 5,000 people from execution

More than 5,000 people on death row in Iran could be offered a reprieve following a softening of the country’s drug laws, which are among the harshest in the world.

 The head of Iran’s judiciary has announced that capital punishment has been abolished for some drug-related offences, and that all cases on death row are now eligible for review.

The change will apply retrospectively, “meaning some 5,000 prisoners could escape execution,” says the BBC.

It follows a vote by Iran’s parliament last August to raise the threshold on the quantity of drugs that will be considered a capital offence. Of the hundreds of people executed by the state each year, the vast majority have been found guilty of drug offences.

“A young population and an abundance of cheap, addictive substances, many coming over the border from Afghanistan, pose a twin challenge to Iranian authorities,” says The Guardian, which claims almost three million Iranians are addicted to hard drugs, out of a population of 80 million.

Speaking to the BBC, Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam of Iran Human Rights, an independent charity based in Norway, said: “If implemented properly, this change in law will represent one of the most significant steps towards reduction in the use of the death penalty worldwide.”

But he also expressed concern that those on death row might not be able to take advantage.

“Since most of those sentenced to death for drug offences belong to the most marginalised parts of Iranian society, it is not given that they have the knowledge and resources to apply for commuting their sentence,” Amiry-Moghaddam said.

His organisation estimates that Iran has executed around 10,000 people for drug crimes over the past three decades.

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