Monday, July 19, 2010

Stoned in Iran

Justice in the Islamic Republic.

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 Sunday 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 last week 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.

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. If only the Obama Administration understood this lesson.

Reprinted from The Wall Street Journal

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