Iran plans to execute two for consuming alcohol

Two people previously lashed 160 times for consuming alcohol, have been sentenced to death for repeatedly consuming alcohol under the country's Islamic Shariah law, which forbids the use, manufacturing and trading of all alcoholic beverages.

The two, whose names have not yet been released, had been arrested twice previously and found guilty. A third offense of consuming alcohol is punishable by death, according to Shariah law.

"Two people who committed the offense of consuming alcohol for the third time have been sentenced to be executed,” the head of judiciary Seyed Hasan Shariahti, based in Iran's north-eastern province of Khorasan Razavi, told the semi-official ISNA news agency, “The verdict has been confirmed by the Supreme Court and we are preparing to administer it."

Under Islamic Shariah law, specific crimes such as sodomy, rape, theft, fornication, apostasy and consumption of alcohol for the third time are considered to be "claims of God" and consequently have mandatory death sentences.

Sentences for such crimes are not at the discretion of the judge, officials allege, but are defined by Shariah law.

Regarding alcohol consumption, Shariahti warned, ''We will show no mercy in finding, trying and punishing those breaking the law, and we will punish them to the highest extent.''

Since the regime change following Iran's 1979 revolution, the Islamic Republic has banned alcohol in the country and has made its consumers punishable by lashing, fines and incarceration.

Despite the country's strict policies against alcohol consumption, about 16 to 20 million gallons of alcohol are smuggled into the country each year, of which police seize only about 25 percent, according to officials.

Some convert their own alcohol, called araq, which contains 45 percent pure ethanol. It is typically diluted before consumption and can be dangerous because of the ethanol utilized in distillation methods.

Those who throw parties can call a covert alcohol vendor to delivers bottles to the door. Others buy Western alcohol in underground markets that can be costly. Often parties are raided because of alcohol consumption.

"Convicting a few individuals for alcohol consumption is not going to be big enough of a deterrent to make people stop drinking," said Reza, a 33-year-old from Tehran, who declined to use his full name in the interview.

"It's rare that cases regarding alcohol go this far," he said. "Usually these matters, especially when parties are raided, are resolved by bribes."

The value of Western-smuggled alcohol into the country in 2011 was around $730 million annually, according to an officer at Iran's anti-smuggling bureau.

Iranian police are taking measures against driving under the influence of alcohol, with offenders liable to fines of over $100, confiscation of their driving licenses and criminal prosecution.

"These types of (social) crackdowns are only to instill fear within the people. This has especially been the case since the political demonstrations (post-election demonstrations of 2009), but the government has failed, because the people continue doing what they will," Reza said.

Despite strict punishments and confiscation of millions of gallons of alcohol, Iranian officials say consumption is on the rise.

The country's newspapers recently reported that the amount of confiscated alcohol has increased by almost 70 percent this year.

Just over a week ago, Deputy Health Minister Alireza Mesdaghinia expressed apprehension about an evident increase in "abnormal behaviors such as alcohol consumption," which he said have harmful health effects and go against the religious and moral standards of society.

"Personal reasons are the most important factors which lead to the spread of alcohol consumption in society," he said, citing that many drink alcohol believing it is a beneficial way to deal with their problems.

The head of the Health Ministry's Policy Making Council, Bagher Larijani, warned last month about "concerning" reports from hospitals and doctors' reports over high alcohol consumption, particularly in the southern districts of Tehran where segments of the city’s lower socio-economic communities live.

"We should be sensitive about this issue and pay attention to it even more than we do to other ailments, such as diabetes or cardiovascular diseases," Larijani said.

According to officials, there are about 2 million drug addicts in Iran, many are also addicted to alcohol.