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Iran’s parliament approved generalities of a bill to restrict the execution of those convicted to death for petty drug offenses.

Out of 246 MPs present on July 16, 182 voted for and 36 against the bill while six abstained, the Iran Students News Agency (ISNA) reported.

If approved, the revised and detailed version of the bill -- which has been under study for more than a year -- will save the lives of thousands of prisoners sentenced to death.

The detailed version of the bill was taken off parliament’s agenda after facing opposition by its National Security and Foreign Policy Commission.

The bill was once again returned to the Judicial and Legal Commission for further deliberation.

Immediately following the vote, Speaker Ali Larijani emphasized, “We have asked the Judicial and Legal Commission to review the detailed version of the bill alongside representatives of the judiciary, the Drug Control Headquarters, and parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission.”

However, an influential reformist MP, Mahmoud Sadeqi, was unhappy with the procedure and reiterated there are efforts to obstruct the final approval of the bill.

“The reason behind efforts to obstruct the passage of the bill is probably the fact that based on an article of the bill, thousands of prisoners already on death row would be spared,” Sadeqi said without further elaboration.

Ali Bakhtiar, a member of the Judicial and Legal Commission, reportedly said in April that there are some 5,000 drug smugglers on death row at Iranian prisons.

Furthermore, the spokesman for the commission, Hassan Norouzi, said last week, “Under the amended bill, those convicted for smuggling less than 100 kilograms (roughly 220 pounds) of traditional drugs and less than 2 kilograms of industrial drugs will not be executed.”

Based on the current law, anyone convicted of smuggling more than 30 grams of industrial drugs faces the death penalty. Those who smuggle 20 to 100 kilos of traditional drugs will be fined, imprisoned, and, in the case of a repeated offense, hanged.

The revised and amended law, if passed, does not include organized drug lords, armed traffickers, repeat offenders, or bulk drug distributors.

“Until the final ratification of the amended bill, the lives of many prisoners will be in the balance,” said Mohammad Kazemi, deputy chairman of parliament’s Legal and Judicial Affairs Commission, in an interview with Shargh newspaper on July 5.

“Their lives could be spared when the [amended] law is applied retroactively. Based on this reasoning, we have asked the judicial branch to stop these executions,” Kazemi noted.

Earlier, the judiciary’s chairman of the Council of Human Rights, Mohammad Javad Larijani, had admitted that capital punishment has not hindered drug trafficking and that “after almost 40 years of hanging drug smugglers, the result is not desirable.”

Iran has one of the highest per-capita execution rates in the world. At least 567 people were executed in 2016, down 42 percent from the 977 executed in 2015, Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have reported. Most of the executions were for petty drug-trafficking crimes.

Meanwhile, the Iran Human Rights Organization, based in Norway, recently reported that 239 prisoners were executed in the past six months in Iran while only 45 cases of hanging were reported by the Iranian media. Half of the executed prisoners were prisoners convicted for drug smuggling.

Many judicial authorities and conservative allies of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are against imposing limits on the death penalty, saying it would weaken Iran’s resolve in its campaign against the country’s growing drug crisis, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) reported on July 7.

The latest opposition came from the head of the prosecutor’s office in Khorasan Razavi Province, Ali Mozaffari, who accused parliament of trying to appease Western governments that have criticized Iran’s high rate of executions, CHRI added.

The amended bill, if finally approved in parliament, needs the Guardian Council’s ratification to become a valid law.

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