Iran was the second highest executioner after China in 2018. It has some of the toughest anti-drug laws globally – 70% of all death sentences in the country were for drug-related offenses. The number of Pakistanis imprisoned or jailed in Iran has been increased due to sentence conversion from capital punishment to imprisonment.
There are 189 Pakistani prisoners currently incarcerated in Iran, according to official figures provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. From November 2015 to July 2017, six Pakistanis were executed on drug-related charges in Iran.
In 2017, the Parliament and the Guardians Council of Iran abolished the death penalty for some drug-related crimes:
- Under the previous law, possessing 5 kilograms of opium or 30 grams of heroin was a capital offense
- Under the new law, it was raised to 50kg of opium, 2 kilograms of heroin or 3 kilograms of methamphetamine
As a result of the amendment, many Pakistani prisoners on death row are now eligible to have their sentences converted from death to imprisonment.
The amendment also restricts the death penalty to those convicted of carrying or drawing weapons, acting as ringleader, providing financial support, or using minors below the age of 18 or the mentally ill in a drug crime, and to those previously sentenced to death, life imprisonment, or imprisonment for more than 15 years for related crimes.
These amendments have significant implications since 90% of the 5,300 drug convicts in Iran are first-time offenders and in the 20-30 age bracket. This means the amendments to the Anti-Narcotics Law can potentially save more than 4,700 lives. Iranian state media quoted Prosecutor General Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi as saying in July 2018 that cases of 1,700 prisoners sentenced to death or life imprisonment for drug-related crimes in Tehran have been reviewed, while 1,300 more requests are pending review, according to the research conducted by JPP.
As per the Iranian Supreme Court in January 2018, those sentenced to death for drug-related crimes will have their sentences changed only if their lawyers apply for a review — verdicts will not be changed automatically.
During the Iranian foreign minister’s trip to Pakistan in August 2018, the PTI government raised the issue of seeking information of Pakistanis imprisoned in Iran. The National Commission of Human Rights in Pakistan had earlier sent a letter and follow-up letter to the President of the Iranian Islamic Human Rights Commission over the matter. Following the visit, then information minister Fawad Chaudhry announced in September 2018 that the embassy in Tehran plans to work with the Tehran Prosecutor General to identify and support Pakistanis imprisoned there. Since then, however, there has been no word on the progress of the government of Pakistan.
Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari has said that Imran Khan raised the issue of Pakistani prisoners in Iran during his visit to the country in April this year and requested the release of those held for petty crimes. She added the country would get “good news” in this regard “very soon”.
It is the responsibility of the government to: ensure transparency and protect Pakistanis whose sentences can be reviewed by Iranian tribunals, update the number of Pakistanis imprisoned in Iran along with the offenses and punishments, ensure effective consular access, and revive the prisoner transfer agreement.
Foreign nationals in Iran face legal barriers due to several procedural hurdles that discriminately affect them and reduce the likelihood of getting their sentences commuted. As a result, Pakistanis suffer increased discrimination and are (along with Afghans) more likely to be at the risk of execution and arbitrary, unfair treatment than Iranians. The government of Pakistan has an obligation under international law and under the Constitution of Pakistan to protect the fundamental rights of its citizens imprisoned aboard. According to official estimates, there are over 11,000 Pakistani citizens languishing in foreign jails.