Dragging Iran out of the Stone-Age

Global condemnation may have forced Iran to abandon plans to stone to death a woman 'convicted' of adultery, but don't count on it. The campaign to fight Sakineh Ashtiani's execution needs more recruits - now!

The mixed messages now coming out of Iran in terms of the stoning to death of a 43-year-old Iranian woman are cause for much concern and need to spark a new round of global condemnation of the Islamic Republic’s so-called human rights practices.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani was sentenced to be stoned to death for adultery. First of all the ‘crime’ was not only vehemently denied but appears to have been decided with little attention to any facts. Secondly, to impose the death sentence – let alone one of stoning – for adultery, even if proven, is barbaric.

Ashtiani has already been lashed 99 times as punishment, but this was apparently not punishment enough, so she has been sentenced to death as well.

The global outcry started by Indigo CEO Heather Reisman, and picked up by Arianna Huffington, other high powered women, politicians, celebrities and thousands of others who have signed a petition (www.freesakineh.org) to halt Ashtiani’s stoning, may, just may, have embarrassed the Iranian government and/or judiciary to spare her the hideous torture. But don’t count on it.

Reports flicking around the world over the last few days have indicated that while stoning may be off the agenda, execution by hanging still awaits.

It would be an execution that is a crime against all women.

While men are sometimes stoned for adultery the deep, sexist divisions that drive the contemporary ‘interpretation’ of the Quran in Iran are in evidence. Men are buried waist deep and if they manage to wriggle free from the hole before dying they are free to go. Women however are buried up to their armpits – ostensibly for fear their breasts may be exposed during the mutilation that is inevitable while the sentence is being meted out. There is no way they can wriggle free.

The Iranian criminal code – Article 104 to be precise – provides that “the stones should not be so large that a person dies after being hit with two of them, not so small as to be defined as pebbles” but must cause severe injury. In short the point is to torture the person to death over a prolonged period of time.

And who is so without sin that he/she can cast the first stone?

Well apparently it is not actually that popular within Iran, so it is literally carried out by a rent-a-crowd … people paid by the government or promised all sorts of rewards for carrying out the rule of God.

Let’s not forget Iranians do not have a mortgage on brutal or righteous thugs who will do the dirtiest of work for financial gain. In a country that size they obviously have enough killers to call upon when needed as Ashtiani is not the first to find herself in this predicament, and she will not be the last. She may however be the catalyst for the blood and the bruises to be inflicted politically on the medieval theocratic tormentors in charge.

While the Iranian government claims stoning is rare, it cannot hide from the fact that many more imprisoned women face this cruel and inhumane fate.

A media black-out also raises concerns that Ashtiani may just be removed from the public glare so her death can be reported as a fait accompli at some time in the near future.

That’s what her children and her lawyer fear.

They brought this case into the global sphere. The letters they post on line are what you would expect from any children who have been separated from their mother because she has been in prison for six years already. They can not even bear to use the term ‘stoning’, but rather talk of the danger their mother is in.

All power to them for igniting this campaign, which, as with the Green Revolution following the 2009 election, found oxygen in rapid fire social media technologies.

Iran, as the world knows through its nuclear ‘negotiations’ does not want to be seen as bending to foreign pressure, but as some incidents in recent past have shown it is not immune from making grand humanitarian gestures. Incidents such as the release of the British sailors who strayed into Iranian waters were overtly political and exploited to the full by Ahmadinejad.

Crossing the judiciary in terms of an Iranian citizen will not be so easy.

That does not mean the world gives up. Human Rights are universal, and we are all global citizens who have the freedom to stand up on this sort of issue.

Stoning or execution for adultery are not verdicts set by God. They are deliberately fear-mongering, sexist, ruthless dictates handed down by a bunch of theocratic thugs who believe themselves to be above accountability.

If Iran expects the world to respect its position on adhering to international agreements such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and condemn other nations who do not abide by international rules, it must act differently.

Iran is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Hurling stones at a woman buried up to her armpits, and ensuring she dies a protracted and extremely painful death is a violation of human rights and in contravention of such a covenant.

There’s a saying about people who live in glass houses, and it is highly relevant where Iran is concerned. It is time for the country to come out of its stone-age, and relentless pressure from the outside world is a vital component in that emergence.