BEIRUT -- Human Rights Watch has urged Iran to scrap the death penalty for citizens convicted of drinking alcohol following reports that the nation's judiciary has upheld two such sentences.
The watchdog called on Iranian authorities to end capital punishment for "crimes that are not considered serious and exceptional under treaties that bind it."
The prosecutor general of Iran's Khorasan Razavi province confirmed that Iran's Supreme Court had upheld death sentences against two people convicted of consuming alcohol, the Iranian Students’ News Agency recently reported.
The prosecutor was quoted as saying that the two persons “had consumed alcoholic drinks for the third time” and that officials were “in the process of making the necessary arrangements for the implementation of the execution order," according to Human Rights Watch.
“Sentencing Iranians to death for consuming alcohol is a scary signal of how little Iran’s judges value Iranian lives and how casually they can make a decision to end them,” the group's Middle East director, Sarah Leath Whitson, said in a news release. “Iran’s courts apparently have nothing better to do than harass and even kill Iranians for engaging in dubious ‘crimes.'"
In the Islamic Republic, drinking alcohol is considered a hadd offense, or a crime against God, and receives specific punishment under Islamic law. Usually, a person caught drinking alcohol gets 80 lashes, according to Human Rights Watch. But an article in the Iranian penal code stipulates that persons will be sentenced to death on their third conviction.
If alcohol violators repent following conviction of the "crime" based on their own confessions, a court is allowed to seek clemency from the nation's supreme leader or his representatives. But if a conviction was based on witness testimony, clemency is not applicable.
Despite the prospect of severe punishment, alarmed Iranian officials warn that alcohol use is increasing.
Earlier this month, Deputy Health Minister Alireza Mesdaghinia reportedly bemoaned "abnormal behaviors such as alcohol consumption" apparently being on the rise. Also this month, Iranian newspapers said that the amount of confiscated booze had gone up by 69% just in the last year.