Two Iranians have been sentenced to death for drinking alcohol, according to the Iranian press.
“Two individuals consumed alcohol three times. The previous two times, they were sentenced to lashes and this time they have been given the death sentence,” said Hassan Shariati, chief justice minister for the province of Khorassan Razavi in the northeast of the country.
The sentence was supported by the country’s Supreme Court, although according to Iranian law, those convicted can escape execution if they repent.
Drinking a glass of wine or beer carries a penalty of 80 lashes, but if a person commits the crime three times, they can be condemned to death. The last death sentence for drinking alcohol was handed out in 2007, but the accused was pardoned after admitting he regretted his actions.
Since the 1979 Islamic revolution, the production, sale and consumption of alcohol has been forbidden; only Christians – a minority group in Iran – are excepted from the law.
However, consumption of alcohol appears to have increased in recent years despite the threat of severe punishment. According to official figures, between 60 and 80 million liters of alcohol are smuggled into Iran each year, with the police seizing only 20 million liters. The illegal alcohol market is thought to be worth around $730 million annually.
The head of the police, General Esmaïl Ahmadi Moghadam, recently claimed that there were “200,000 alcoholics” in Iran. He also said that 80 percent of all illegal alcohol entering the country was smuggled through the border with the Kurdistan region of Iraq.
In addition, alcohol is produced in secret in Iran. The home-made liquor is cheap but is often dangerous, being responsible for tens of deaths each year.