Sunni Leader Calls on Khamenei to Investigate Reports of Expedited Executions of Sunni Prisoners
Iran’s most senior Sunni cleric, Molavi Abdolhamid Ismaeelzahi, has written to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei asking him to “calm the worries of the Sunni community” over reports that an order has been issued to speed up scheduled executions of Sunni death-row prisoners.
In a letter published on February 20, 2017, Molavi Abdolhamid pointed to “rumors published in some media outlets concerning a secret order by the Judiciary Chief (Sadegh Larijani) to expedite the execution of Sunni prisoners convicted of drug crimes.”
Molavi Abdolhamid, the Sunni Friday prayer leader of Zahedan city, also mentioned recent executions in several Sunni-majority cities, which “strengthens the possibility that the judiciary chief’s secret order truly exists” and therefore “requires the wise leader’s (Khamenei’s) prudent and fatherly intervention to calm the worries of the Sunni community.”
Iran maintains one of the highest per capita execution rates in the world. One of Iran’s poorest provinces, Sistan and Baluchistan has one of the highest numbers of executions per capita in the country.
High unemployment has drawn many of the inhabitants of this Sunni-majority region towards illegally trafficking the drugs that are pouring into Iran from bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Iran has some 5,000 prisoners on death row and “90 percent of them are between 20 and 30-years old, who are first-time [drug] offenders,” said Hassan Norouzi, a member of Parliament, on November 23, 2016.
The Parliament is currently considering an amendment that would prevent the judiciary from issuing the death penalty to those convicted of petty crimes in drug trafficking.
The “rumors” Molavi Abdolhamid was referring to began when Amad News, an opposition news site run by reformists, reported on February 18 that an unnamed “senior judicial official” had disclosed the judiciary chief’s order to expedite the execution of close to 50 prisoners on death row for drug trafficking before Parliament ratifies the amendment.
The Judiciary has not commented on the report.
Since the last two months of 2016, momentum has been growing among legislators to force a reluctant hardline judiciary to limit capital punishment.
On February 12, the Parliamentary Committee on Legal and Judicial Affairs voted to issue the death penalty only to those convicted of drug crimes involving the charge of “corruption on earth,” which includes the use of weapons.
The amendment, which requires the full approval of the Parliament and the Council of Guardians before it can be implemented, calls for Article 46 of the Law Against Drug Trafficking to limit the death penalty to “organized drug lords,” “armed trafficking,” “repeat offenders” and “bulk drug distributors,” and reduce the punishment for minor drug crimes to life imprisonment or less.