Thursday 13 May 2010

Islamic Republic of Iran's Penal Code and the Death Penalty

Islamic Republic of Iran’s Penal Code imposes the death penalty for three classes of crime: Qesas, huddud, and ta’zirat:


Qesas (retribution) is considered punishment ‘equivalent to the crime, which God has prescribed for jinayat (murder or bodily harm).’ Qesas-e nafs (‘retaliation with a life’) is the Islamic term for capital punishment in qatl-e amd (“intentional killing”) and is considered a right conferred to the heirs of the victim. Prosecution, continuation of trial and execution of a Qesas sentence are conditional upon the will of the heirs.

Since Qesas is considered a right conferred by God to the murdered victim’s heirs, the death sentence is mandatory once a conviction for “intentional killing” has been obtained.


Hadd, (plural: huddud. Meaning “boundary or limit”) is a punishment for which “Sharia has fixed the measure, the degree and the method.” It is thus by definition unchangeable,
irreducible and mandatory. Huddud capital crimes consist of three subcategories:

- Sex crimes: These include seven offences under zina (illicit heterosexual sex) including male and female adultery, rape, intercourse with stepmother and relatives with whom marriage is forbidden, and intercourse between a Muslim man and a non-Muslim woman; three under lavat (penetrative male homosexual sex) including consensual intercourse, rape, and intercourse with minors, one under tafkhiz (non-penetrative male homosexual sex) when the ‘active party’ is non-Muslim and the ‘passive party’ is Muslim, and also two under necrophilia.

- Crimes against the state and religion: These include five offences under moharebeh and
mofsade-fil-arz (literally, “fighting God’s ordinances” and “corruption on earth”). They also include two under irtidad (apostasy), witchcraft, heresy and blasphemy which, although not included in the penal code, have always remained applicable under Sharia.

- Recidivism: These include a fourth conviction for non-capital zina (fornication), tafkhiz, mosaheqeh (lesbian sex), qazf (unfounded accusation of zina or lavat), sirqat
(theft), renewed irtidad (apostasy), bestiality, necrophilia, and a third conviction of drinking alcohol.

Since hadd crimes are claims of God, they do not require a private complainant for prosecution (qazf is the only exception). A wife or husband who has been found guilty of adultery is put to death even if their spouse has made no complaint or has opposed the death sentence. The only mitigating circumstance for a hadd death sentence is “repentance,” which only applies to persons whose crimes have been proven in court on the basis of their own confessions. Even then, the judge has the discretion to propose the granting of a pardon or to implement the death sentence.


Iranian law defines ta’zir (plural: ta’zirat. Literally “chastisement”) as punishment imposed for “an act or an omission that is prohibited in the sacred Islamic Sharia.” Ta’zir punishments that are not specified in Sharia and are left to “the discretion of the Islamic judge”. Altogether there are 97 ta’zir capital offenses. They span from acts with potentially lethal consequences, such as attempting to assassinate the Leader to economic crimes such as counterfeiting currency, morality crimes such as extensive distribution of obscene/pornographic audio-visual materials, and public order crimes such as providing improperly baked breads to strike at the regime.

Drug-related capital offenses include trafficking, cultivation, manufacturing, and importing and exporting drugs. People in possession of illicit drugs exceeding certain amounts are also executed, and where the individual has multiple convictions, the narcotics are calculated cumulatively, with the death penalty applied if the total quantity reaches the stated threshold.

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