Two Iranians were sentenced to death for the repeat offense of drinking alcohol, according to Iranian media reports. Since the 1979 revolution, the Islamic Republic has operated under Sharia law where consumption, production and sale of alcohol is illegal.
The Guardian provides more details from the Iranian press:
The two, who have not been named by the authorities, have each previously been lashed 160 times [80 times each] after twice being arrested for consuming alcohol. Being convicted for the third time makes them liable for the death penalty.
The head of the judiciary Seyed Hasan Shariati, based in Iran's north-eastern province of Khorasan Razavi, told the semi-official Isna news agency that the supreme court had upheld their death sentences and that officials were preparing for their execution.
"Two people who committed the offence of consuming alcohol for the third time have been sentenced to be executed. The verdict has been confirmed by the supreme court and we are preparing to administer it," he said.
Under Iranian Sharia law, certain crimes such as sodomy, rape, theft, fornication, apostasy and consumption of alcohol for the third time are considered to be "claims of God" and therefore have mandatory death sentences.
The Guardian explains -- by comparison -- that in non-alcohol related cases such as theft and lesbianism, capital punishment is handed out only if the individual is a previous offender and has been previously punished three times for the same crime. For alcohol, the death penalty can be considered on the third offense. Shariati, the head of the judiciary, says:
"We will not show mercy in alcoholic beverage offenses," he said, "and we will sentence the offenders to the harshest letter of the law.”
Executions for violations of Iran's alcohol laws are believed to be rare, according to Radio Free Europe. RFE quotes Iran's Shargh newspaper which reports that the last death penalty handed down for a repeat offender in an alcohol case was in 2007. That sentence was overturned after the convict expressed contrition.
Despite the alcohol ban and extreme penalties, there is a reportedly active black market in Iran for these drinks. PBS reports that as many as 20 million gallons of alcohol are smuggled into the country every year and an unknown amount is produced in home distilleries.
According to The Guardian:
Despite the ban, many people in Iran drink alcohol, usually a homemade liquor called araq, which contains 45% pure ethanol. It is usually mixed before consumption and can be dangerous because of the ethanol used in its distillation.
Hosts who throw parties call an alcohol vendor who delivers it to the door. Western alcohol is smuggled to Iran and can be found in underground markets but can be costly.
Non-Muslim minorities in Iran including Christians are allowed to consume alcohol and use it in religious ritual, though must do so privately.