(Beirut) – Iran’s judiciary should not implement provisions of the new penal code that violate basic rights, including execution by stoning. The Guardian Council, composed of 12 religious jurists, reinserted the stoning provision into a previous version of the draft law which had omitted stoning to death as the explicit penalty for adultery.
No official statistics are available, but human rights groups estimate thatthe Iranian authorities currently hold at least 10 women and men who face possible execution by stoning on adultery charges. At least 70 people have been executed by stoning in Iran since 1980. The last known execution by stoning was in 2009.
“Stoning to death is an abhorrent punishment that has no place in any country’s penal code,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “By insisting on keeping stoning in the penal code, Iranian authorities are providing proof positive that they preside over a criminal justice system based on fear, torture and injustice.”
Iran’s semi-official Mehr News Agency reported on April 27, 2013, that the Guardian Council had finished reviewing and making changes to the draft penal code and that the law would soon be implemented. The Guardian Council is an unelected body empowered to vet all legislation to ensure its compatibility with Iran’s constitution and Sharia, or Islamic law. It had approved an earlier version of the draft penal code but then withdrew its approval in late 2012 to amend it further before implementation.
The earlier draft proposed removing penal code provisions that prescribe stoning to death as a punishment for adultery. However, it would have still enabled judges to rely on religious sources, including Sharia and fatwas (religious edicts) by high-ranking Shia clerics, to sentence defendants they convicted of adultery to execution by stoning.
The amended draft penal code explicitly identifies stoning as a form of punishment for people convicted of adultery or sex outside of marriage. Under article 225, if a court and the head of the judiciary rule that it is “not possible” in a particular case to carry out the stoning, the person may be executed by another method if the authorities proved the crime on the basis of eyewitness testimony or the defendant’s confession.
The revised code also provides that courts that convict defendants of adultery based on the “knowledge of the judge,” a notoriously vague and subjective doctrine allowing conviction in the absence of any hard evidence, may impose corporal punishment sentences of 100 lashes rather than execution by stoning. The penalty for people convicted of fornication, or sex outside of marriage that involves an unmarried person, is 100 lashes.
Human Rights Watch has previously called on the Iranian government to end the practice of stoning, and opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as an inherently cruel and unusual form of punishment that violates fundamental human rights.
In 2012, Human Rights Watch issued a comprehensive report analyzing the previous version of the draft penal code which contained numerous provisions that would violate human rights and breach Iran’s obligations under international human rights treaties. Outside of the adultery and stoning provisions, those provisions remain virtually untouched in the latest draft penal code. Some of the most serious problems with the proposed amendments include:
- Retention of the death penalty for child offenders, for crimes that are not considered serious under international law, and for activities that should not be crimes at all;
- Failure to define clearly and set out in the code several crimes that carry serious punishments, including capital punishment;
- Inclusion of broad or vaguely worded national-security-related laws criminalizing the exercise of fundamental rights;
- Continued use of punishments that amount to torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, including stoning, flogging, and amputation; and
- Retention of discriminatory provisions against women and religious minorities.
Iranian government officials have frequently maintained that the proposed changes to the penal code represent a significant improvement and address many of the rights concerns expressed by the international community.
“Regardless of what Iranian officials say, the new penal code will be an absolute disaster for human rights,” Whitson said. “It speaks volumes when a main issue among Iranian officials and jurists is whether people convicted of the ‘crime’ of adultery should be stoned to death or hanged.”