Iran Must Halt Woman’s Death by Stoning
Washington (CNN) — It is clearly stated in Article 5 of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights that, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
Adopted in 1948 by the U.N. General Assembly, in addition to outlawing torture categorically, this international treaty was to be used as a common standard for international law and outlined — for the first time ever — fundamental human rights to be protected anywhere around the world.
Included under the category of “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” would most certainly be the impending death by stoning of a 42-year-old Iranian mother for the alleged crime of adultery.
Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani — a mother of two — could be stoned to death at any moment under the terms of a death sentence that Iranian authorities handed down in 2006.
Originally sentenced to 99 lashes for her alleged “illicit relationship outside of marriage,” Ashtiani endured that corporal punishment in front of her then-17-year-old son in 2006. She was subsequently cleared of murder charges against her husband, but the judicial panel then re-examined Ashtiani’s adultery sentence, and based on unspecified “judges’ knowledge,” bizarrely decided that she should be put to death by stoning for the alleged affair.
“At that time, it should have been finished. They should have punished her only once,” said her son Sajjad, now 22. “Her documents say she is innocent. She already paid for the crime.”
According to Amnesty International, the Iranian penal code specifies the procedures for death penalties and also specifies the types of rocks that should be used in stoning executions. Article 102 of the Iranian penal code states that “men will be buried up to their waists and women up to their breasts” for the purpose of execution by stoning.
Article 104 states, with reference to the penalty for adultery, that the stones used should “not be large enough to kill the person by one or two strikes; nor should they be so small that they could not be defined as stones.” This makes it abundantly clear that the purpose of stoning is to inflict maximum pain in a process leading to slow death, which would be tantamount to “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Sakineh Ashtiani, who is from the northern city of Tabriz, was convicted of adultery in 2006. Some human rights lawyers believe that a language barrier prevented her from fully comprehending court proceedings at the time. She is of Azerbaijani descent and speaks Turkish, not Farsi.
In 2006, she was forced to confess after being subjected to 99 lashes, according to human rights lawyer Mohammad Mostafaei in Tehran. She later retracted that confession and has denied wrongdoing in the matter.
Furthermore, her conviction was based on the determination of three out of five judges, which is strange because Article 74 of the Iranian penal code clearly requires at least four eyewitnesses — four men or three men and two women — for an adulterer to receive a stoning death sentence.
“The majority of those sentenced to death by stoning [in Iran] are women, who suffer disproportionately from such punishment,” Amnesty International further highlighted in a 2008 report.
In light of the recent developments in Ashtiani’s case, the prominent human rights group recently has made a new call to the Iranian government immediately to halt all executions and commute all death sentences within Iran. Thus far, Amnesty International has recorded more than 126 executions of all forms in Iran from the start of this year to June 6 alone.
“The organization is also urging the [Iranian] authorities to review and repeal death penalty laws, to disclose full details of all death sentences and executions and to join the growing international trend towards abolition [of the death penalty],” Amnesty International recently said in its public statement regarding the case of Ashtiani.
Here in Washington, the State Department also has criticized the scheduled execution by stoning, saying that it raises serious concerns about human rights violations by the Iranian government.
“We have grave concerns that the punishment does not fit the alleged crime,” Assistant Secretary of State P.J. Crowley recently said in a statement. “For a modern society such as Iran, we think this raises significant human rights concerns.”
Calling Iran’s judicial system “disproportionate” in the disparate treatment of the nation’s women, Crowley said, “From the United States’ standpoint, we don’t think putting women to death for adultery is an appropriate punishment.”
Sadly, with all of her legal appeals virtually exhausted, Ashtiani’s son has been recently told by the Iranian courts that there is only one thing that can stop his mother’s imminent execution.
“They told me if Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah [Ali] Khamenei … or Judiciary Chairman Sadegh Larijani grants my mother a letter of pardon, [only then] she will go free.”
Thus far, Ashtiani’s loyal son has traveled to Tehran more than six times to obtain that letter of clemency but has yet been unable to gain an audience with either man. If the grand ayatollah and/or Iranian judiciary chairman have some human decency and respect for international law, they would immediately draft a letter of pardon for Ashtiani, finally realizing that only those people without any sin have the moral right to cast the first or last stones.
Arsalan Iftikhar is an international human rights lawyer, founder of TheMuslimGuy.com and legal fellow for the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding in Washington.
This article appeared on cnn.com on July 7, 2010: