An Iranian court has sentenced a 22-year-old man to death for his fourth violation of the country's ban on drinking alcohol.
The man -- identified only by his first name, Mohsen -- was reportedly sentenced to death after a Tehran court judged him a "hardened and incorrigible drinker." Iranian media reported that a second Tehran court is currently deciding whether Mohsen should be executed. He has 20 days to appeal the decision.
Under Iran's Islamic Shari'a law, a person who is caught drinking for a fourth time may face capital punishment. First-time offenders are punished with cash fines, flogging -- 80 lashes for a single drinking offense -- or a jail sentence.
Mohsen has been punished for drinking alcohol three times before -- in May, June, and October 2006.
Iranian news agencies quoted his lawyer, Aziz Nokendei, as saying his client was recently arrested again for drunken and disorderly behavior.
Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, alcohol consumption has been strictly forbidden in Iran.
A judge at a Tehran criminal court, Jalil Jalili, suggested that the courts have gone easy on Mohsen until now. According to "the Islamic Penal Code, if someone drinks twice and is punished for it on each occasion, he should be executed on the third offense," Jalili said.
Nevertheless, some Iranian lawyers argue that the execution of such offenders is also a violation of the country's laws because of Tehran's international obligations.
Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, a board member of Iran's Independent Society of Defense Lawyers and the head of a Tehran law firm, tells RFE/RL that executing a person for merely being drunk violates Iran's obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, an advisory declaration adopted by the UN.
"According to the ninth article of the Iranian Civil Code, we can say that these [international] agreements are a part of domestic laws and cannot be ignored," Dadkhah says. "In this context, we can say that handing down the death penalty for drinking alcohol is questionable."
Many Iranians ignore the ban on alcohol, despite the risk of harsh punishments. Iranian authorities admit that alcohol consumption has increased in the country in recent years, and that Iranians drink at least 1 million liters of alcoholic beverages annually. Alcohol can easily be obtained on the black market in all parts of the country.
Christian minorities in Iran -- such as Armenians -- are allowed to produce and consume alcohol. They are required, however, to drink it behind closed doors in order not to upset Islamic sensibilities.
Iran has been criticized by Western governments and human rights groups for having one of the highest rates of executions in the world. Murder, rape, adultery, and drug trafficking are among the offenses punishable by death under Iranian law.
However, executions for drinking are very rare there. Amnesty International says a Kurdish man, Karim Fahimi, was sentenced to death in 2005 in the western city of Sardasht after having been convicted of drinking alcohol for at least the third time. It is not known if the sentence was carried out.
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