Capital punishment in the Islamic Republic of Iran

In recent years, many Muslims have come to accept the notion of democracy but there is a variety of opinion as to its precise meaning. They have sought to delineate Islamic forms of democracy, or popular political participation, seeking to provide an Islamic rationale whose legitimacy finds its roots in tradition.
The Islamification of democracy has been based on a modern process of reinterpretation of the traditional Islamic concepts of political deliberation or consultation, community consensus, and personal interpretation or reinterpretation to support notions of parliamentary democracy; this also extends to include representative elections, and religious reform.
Islamic organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhoods in Egypt and Jordan, Algeria’s Islamic Salvation Front, Indonesia’s Muhammadiya and Nahdatual Ulama ostensibly have advocated the principle of democratic elections and, have participated in parliamentary elections (Common Dreams NewsCenter, 2005) As with the interpretation of Islam, notions of democracy and the structuring of administration of justice take on different forms in different Muslim countries with different experience.

Throughout the Islamic world, governments have adopted varying degrees of self-representation in response to unique historical circumstances. Turkey, for example, is a parliamentary, secular democracy. Indonesia is one of the world’s largest republics, but an uncertain one as the nation still struggles to evolve a representative political system after decades of repressive authoritarian rule.
Iraq is currently a case study in nation-building in the aftermath of the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein and Iran is a theocratic republic with a growing democratic reform movement. Whilst many Islamic states have moved closer to democracy, the aforementioned groups and States along with several other Islamic States, particularly in the Middle East, advocate the death penalty as a capital punishment for many different types of crimes. It has been claimed that Iran’s execution rate is second in the world only to that of China.
However, this assertion has also been variously dismissed by the regime as exaggeration of the facts (Gelbart, 2010). Nevertheless, the death penalty is legal and permitted for certain crimes in Iran. Capital punishment can be administered for the crimes such as treason, rape, sodomy, terrorism, murder, the trafficking of drugs, paedophilia, kidnap and armed robbery (FIDH, 2011). The present Iranian regime has been a subject of controversy and stringent criticism in the West for some time now.
The current central disputes focus predominantly around the research and manufacture of nuclear weapons although it has also received controversy for its policy on execution and capital punishment, perhaps the most controversial occurring over the execution of those under 18, considered by law as not yet adult (minors). These State-legitimised executions have been raised as issues because they directly violate the Convention of the Rights of the Child, a treaty signed by Iran which protects children from execution (EMINE, 2012).
Iran has attempted to defray these allegations by claiming dispensation in these cases (and some others) because certain sections of the Convention have been deemed incompatible with ‘Islamic jurisprudence’ (DN. SE, 2008). The Iranian regime has also received criticism for the alleged use of stoning as a means of exacting the death penalty, although these allegations have been denied by the Iranian judiciary as Western propaganda, along with the allegations of the execution of minors (BBC NEWS, 2005).
In February 2012 a new penal code was adopted by Iran which officially legislated against the administration of the death penalty to minors (those under the age of 18) and those of who are subject to diminished mental development. In some rare instances the death penalty can still be applied to minors who commit murder between the ages of 15 and 18 years old but only if the judge is completely confident that the crime was entirely and absolutely premeditated and that the perpetrators in question are as mentally developed as adults (Bozorgmehr, 2010).
The issue of Iranian executions carried out against minors has also been a salient point in the campaigns of numerous human rights groups. These groups claim that in spite of Iran’s signing on the Convention on the Rights of the Child they are actually the largest executor of minors in the world. This may be due to the disparity of definition regarding children in Iran. The Islamic Penal Code (Article 49) defines a child in Iran, as stipulated by Islamic law, as ‘someone who has not reached the age of bulugh (puberty)’ (Human Rights Watch, 2008).
This discrepancy may be due to Iran’s use of the lunar Islamic calendar for the determination of criminal responsibility, as opposed to the standard solar calendar, which is longer. This means that in some cases a criminal who faced the death penalty Iran would be tired as an18 year old in accordance with Islamic years but only be 17 years old in the Western standard solar calendar (O’Toole, 2007). As Marx (1843) famously asserted ‘Religion is the opium of the masses’.
Throughout all history, religion has played the starring role in much of human conflict, with philosophical, political, sociological, as well as physical repercussions. Most of religions profess and share positive life philosophies and values, although it is commonly recognised that some religious entities and States have used their power to realise crimes against humanity. Some religious regimes have also used the respective doctrine of their associated religions, to carry out perceivably draconian brutality against their people, be it for political disagreement or legal dissent.
It is difficult to foresee how Islamic societies can realise their tremendous potential without genuine political reform. Evidently, it is not Islam that is the greatest obstacle to serious democratisation and reform against the death penalty. On the contrary, the most important impediment is the continuing resistance of established political regimes, whose leaders espouse the language of democracy but rarely permit political liberalisation beyond that which they can orchestrate and control.
Mona Yacoubian (Gelbart, 2010) makes a persuasive case for greater international involvement in urging the Iranian government toward greater reform. The key to the success of democratisation and reformation of the death penalty in Islamic societies is imposition of more freedom, expanding freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom of thought, and freedom to form independent organisations. The process may be long and slow but it must be real, sustainable, and measures should be taken to prevent the reversal of it.
History shows that many governments in the Muslim world have become adept at promising democratic reforms only to fail on their promises ad deliver more oppression. In this regard, the international community needs to exert sustained pressure on the existing governments to sue for liberalisation, democratisation and extension of civil liberties: only through such routes can true societal freedom be attained. Real and genuine reforms are needed; liberal and moderate voices cannot be heard in an environment of fear and repression.
The United States and European countries should stop implicitly and explicitly supporting all Middle Eastern dictatorships and oppressive regimes (rather than just those who operate in accordance with their political machinations); this they should do in the name of stability and to promote peace and strengthen the voices of liberal Islam, rather than propagating sometimes spurious propaganda in order to exercise military power and at the same time undermining their own arguments.
Muslim countries must also gain experience with democratic institutions and practices. Nonetheless, the success to the development of democracy will necessarily be dependent on the success of the citizens to ultimately resolve their inner crisis, but this situation in turn will always be hampered unless the general unrest and political instability either plateaus or resolves of its own volition.

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