Stoned in Iran
If an Iranian prosecutor has his way, a 43-year-old mother of two will soon be taken from her cell in Tabriz prison, wrapped in a white shroud, buried up to her chest in a dirt pit, and stoned to death. In accordance with Iran’s penal code, the rocks pelted at her head will be big enough to inflict pain, but not large enough to kill her immediately. It will take time — maybe half an hour — for her to die.
Welcome to Iranian justice, where the testimony of a woman is worth half that of a man, and gays are hanged in the public square.
The Islamic Republic insists that the crimes of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani are manifold. A poor Azeri who speaks little Persian, Ms. Ashtiani was first found guilty by an East Azerbaijan court in May 2006 of having “illicit relationships” with two men. For this, she was lashed 99 times.
In another trial several months later, she was sentenced to stoning for alleged adultery with the man accused of murdering her husband. Last week the head of the East Azerbaijan Judiciary told the Islamic Republic News Agency that, in addition to these sexual crimes, Ms. Ashtiani was also convicted of the murder itself.
Following a campaign by her two children, the Western press and various politicians and celebrities, the Iranian embassy in London issued a statement saying the stoning was suspended. Yet Ms. Ashtiani’s fate remains unclear. Her lawyer, Mohammad Mostafai, says that the stay is ambiguous and that there’s a “very serious chance” of execution by other means, like hanging.
The chief of the judiciary in her province confirmed that “whenever the respectable head of the judiciary [Sadeq Larijani] finds it expedient, the execution of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani will be carried out.” Tehran has banned newspapers and TV stations from reporting accurately on Ms. Ashtiani’s case. Most Iranians don’t even know her name. Meanwhile, we hear that her 22-year-old son Sajad has been summoned by the Tabriz intelligence ministry. Our calls to him went unanswered. He went on to accuse Western countries of committing the real human-rights abuses “against innocent nations including Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine.”According to Amnesty International, Iran executes more people than any other country in the world other than China. Last year the number was 388.”What you find is that the most vulnerable people — the ones who aren’t politically connected, who are poor — are the ones who fall victim to these draconian laws,” Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran told us. “The local judges decided she had to die as a matter of honor. If this hadn’t gotten the international attention its gotten, they probably would have gone ahead with it.”
Ten other Iranians accused of adultery (seven women and three men) currently await the same medieval punishment for their “crime against God,” according to Amnesty International. The silver lining in all of this is that the public outcry is making a difference.