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

Amnesty International called on Iran to abolish the death penalty for all crimes. AGENCIES

Lawmakers have raised the limits on the amounts of drugs one can possess before it becomes a capital offence.

In August, the Iranian parliament raised the threshold for a death sentence to a possession of nearly 110 pounds of opium, nearly 5 pounds of heroin or nearly 7 pounds of methamphetamine.

An unknown number of people are executed every year in Iran, but it is estimated by rights human groups to be in the hundreds, mainly for drug crimes.

"The Iranian authorities have executed thousands of people for drugs offenses, in blatant violation of global law, which restricts the use of the death penalty to the most serious crimes involving intentional killing", Mughrabi said.

Larijani told media that most prisoners would have their death sentences reduced to extended jail terms.

Mizanonline, pro-reform Shargh newspaper, and other dailies quoted Larijani as saying that the move "clarifies the fate of some 5,000 sentenced to death for drug trafficking" and that it would be applied retroactively.

Neighboring Afghanistan produces 90 percent of the world's opium, which is extracted from poppy resin and refined to make heroin, and Iran is a major transit route for the drug to western Asia and Europe.

Capital punishment has been abolished for some drug offences, and the head of the judiciary has said all cases on death row can be reviewed. Nearly 3 million Iranians are estimated to be addicted to hard drugs, out of a population of 80 million.

"If implemented properly, this long-overdue reform will spare hundreds from the gallows, but that should be just the start".

Last year, Amnesty called on the Iranian parliament to amend proposed legislation to ensure that the death penalty was prohibited for all non-lethal crimes, in line with worldwide human rights law.

Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, from Iran Human Rights (IHR), an independent NGO based in Norway that has monitored Iran's use of the capital punishment and has been critical of its record, welcomed the news.

But he expressed concern that those on death row might not be able to take advantage. "The Iranian authorities must stop using the death penalty for drug-related offences with a view to eventually abolishing it for all crimes". "Those who are on death row for drug offenses must be given legal aid".

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