Jan 13, 2018, 11:50 AM ET

Iran's new drug law may spare thousands from execution

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Playing with his friends in a dusty alley of a remote village somewhere in the central province of Isfahan, Iran, 6-year-old Reza finally had a sparkle in his eyes after years of anguish.

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This morning, Reza was told that his mother, Mansoureh, who has been in prison on drug crimes for six years and was sentenced to death, might will not be executed after all thanks to a change in a drug law that has softened the punishment for some offenders.

Mansoureh and Reza's father, Majid, were arrested and imprisoned after they were caught carrying 8 kilograms (nearly 18 pounds) of drugs. The change in the law is too late to save Majid -- who was executed 14 months ago -- but may save Mansoureh.

PHOTO: Two Iranian custom officers hold their drug-sniffing dogs at Irans Dogharoun customs house on border with Afghanistan, near Taibad in eastern Iran, June 1, 2014.Vahid Salemi/AP, FILE
Two Iranian custom officers hold their drug-sniffing dogs at Iran's Dogharoun custom's house on border with Afghanistan, near Taibad in eastern Iran, June 1, 2014.

“It keeps one of his parents for him,” Zahra, Reza’s grandmother who's been raising him, told ABC News. The death sentence for some drug-related crimes was abolished and replaced with life imprisonment or fines last fall. According to the former law, possessing 30 grams (1 ounce) of heroin or 5 kilograms (11 pounds) of opium could send offenders to the gallows.

The new law raised the threshold for capital punishment to possessing more than 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of opium, 2 kilograms (4 pounds) of heroin or 3 kilograms (7 pounds) of meth. On Tuesday, it was announced that those awaiting execution have the right to have their cases reviewed given the new law, offering hope to thousands on death row.

PHOTO: Confiscated opium is seen on display during a ceremony concluding anti-narcotics manoeuvres in Zahedan, 1,003 miles southeast of Tehran, May 20, 2009.Caren Firouz/Reuters, FILE
Confiscated opium is seen on display during a ceremony concluding anti-narcotics manoeuvres in Zahedan, 1,003 miles southeast of Tehran, May 20, 2009.

It's estimated the move could save as many 5,000 who have already received a death penalty verdict, Iranian TV channel Jame Jam reported. But it could be even more.

“The new statement will return 15,000 cases back to the courts to be re-studied,” Hassan Norouzi, spokesman for the parliament's Judiciary Committee, told Jame Jam.

Iran has the highest number of executions in the world after China, according to Amnesty International. Iran alone accounted for 66 percent of all recorded executions in the Middle East. However, executions have been on the decline. The total number of executions in the country dropped by 42 percent in 2016, down from at least 977 to at least 567 compared to the previous year.

Iran’s hard-liner judiciary officials have always insisted that most of the capital punishments were due to drug-related crimes and carried out as a preventive measure to control drug trafficking within the country and to Europe.

While the new law may save lives, legal experts in the country say it's unclear whether it will do anything to reduce drug-related crime.

“It will save people with minor crimes and clear backgrounds to return back to their families, and, hopefully, after their imprisonments, they will use the second chance offered to them to make a decent life,” Mehdi, 48, a lawyer who asked only to be identified by his first name, told ABC News. However, Ahmad Hadi Abadi, 33, also a lawyer, is concerned that the new law has less preventive power. “I agree that the former law wasn’t fully effective, but the new law seems to be more helpful in fixing Iran’s image for international human rights activists, rather than preventing drug crimes,” he said.

For her part, Zahra is the happiest today after hearing Mansoureh shouting out of happiness in a phone call from prison saying her execution is revoked. She is also happy her grandson has hope again. “He was depressed and anxious for months after his dad’s execution. This kid would totally break if his mom was executed, too,” she said.

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  • Dale Gross

    Barbarians, only slightly more barbaric than Americans.

  • BowreguardFoosex

    When a society bans drugs,alcohol,sex or even contact with opposite sex there people cant emotionally grow to deal with such issues. Just pray 5 times a day and perhaps God will love you? Meanwhile we will build these nukes to smite the infidels

  • TexasVulcan

    I'd be curious to know if more executions mean less drug use or if it has no effect on dealers or addicts.

  • James DuMouchel

    It has been shown repeatedly that severity of punishment is NOT correlated with how much drug abuse a society suffers. Go to the website of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) to find out why.

  • PER

    If the parents cared about their child, they wouldn't have tried to get rich quick in a country where they knew breaking the law would result in a death sentence.

  • Blankety Blank

    I must have missed the part where Jeff Sessions was outraged at the slackening of punishment for drug crimes! I guess they must be another s****hole nation!

  • conservative banned again

    Who are we to judge strict laws on drugs when we need stricter laws on murder,rape, and death for those who harm children. I see people harming children sentenced to probation then see a man who threw a rock through a muslim church window and get 4 years. Maybe we need some harsh laws like other countries.

  • Btheladyinred

    You have to be crazy to get caught up in that if you know the punishment. How do people get that addicted if they are so strict?

  • bibleexpert

    Jeff Sessions was probably masturbating while reading this story.

  • Mata Bakhtiar

    How does demonstrating leniency and introducing a self-defeating liberal policy in Iran, a country with unbearable level of drugs problems, can protect the vulnerable & society at large in that country; against the scourge of drugs trafficking? Shame!

  • Jason Chaffetz the Movie

    The Iran Regime is so mean to it's own people. We should invade and kill about a million Civilians... That's what we did in Iraq and for the same reasons. That and Iraq was breaking sanctions... with American Oil Companies.

  • Jason Chaffetz the Movie

    Thank Allah there are no homosexuals in Iran.

  • Snarky Sarcasm

    We're getting ready for war with Iran. We should be hearing about what villains they are, until finally, they kill their own people with gas, just before we invade.

  • xtch3

    I guess I'm revealing my ignorance here but I honestly didn't realize that drugs were such a problem in Iran.

  • Davey Jones

    good to know that Iranians carrying drugs might not be executed and can have a life sentence instead.