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July 2, 2010

One Iranian Court’s Cruel and Unusual Choice of Punishment: Death by Stoning

Death by stoning, generally thought of as a barbaric and obsolete practice of a bygone era, is unfortunately not quite the anachronism one would like it to be. An Iranian woman, facing charges of adultery for her involvement with two men responsible for the murder of her husband, has been sentenced to death by stoning in the Iranian city of Tabriz.
Sakineh Mohamamadie Ashtiani’s execution will be drawn out. She will be struck by rocks until she is buried up to her chest. Had she been a man she would have been buried up to her waist only. Inopportunely, the majority of those sentenced to death by stoning in Iran are women.
News of the sentence has been met with a mixture of moral outrage and deep disappointment. Stoning is yet another example of the Iranian government’s utter disregard for human rights. At every turn, one stumbles upon a new article detailing Iran’s human rights abuses. Amnesty International reported 126 executions in Iran from the beginning of the year to June 6.
What is perhaps, most disturbing about stoning is that while it may be a first class human rights violation, it is perfectly legal choice of punishment in Iranian adultery cases. Individuals guilty of infidelity are generally punished with lashes and jail time. The choice of punishment is left to up to the judge. This can be found in Article 83 of the Laws of Islamic Punishment in Iran which was ratified in 1991. The irony is that the punishment of stoning does not appear in the Koran. If the government chooses to follow through with the execution of Ashtiani, the stoning will be the first in years.
Ashtiani’s execution is believed to be imminent. She denies the allegations. Her children, Fasrideh, 16, and Sajjad, 20, are working on behalf of their mother but have not been informed as to the status of her case. Her son pleaded for her release:

“Please help end this nightmare and do not let it turn into a reality. Help us save our mother.”

Matters are complicated by the fact that Ashtiani has already been punished for her alleged extramarital relations. She was tried in 2005 and sentenced to 99 lashes after which she confessed to the crime. She also served an unknown amount of time in prison. She has since then retracted her confession.
One year later, Ashtiani and the two men with whom she was accused of having sexual relations were all tried for the murder of Ashtiani’s husband. They were found guilty and sentenced to death. Ashtiani maintains her innocence. The case is complicated by the fact that murder is not punishable by stoning. In order for Ashtiani to have received the punishment of stoning, her adultery case must have been reopened, human rights activists say. Moreover, it is possible that Ashtiani had trouble understanding the court proceedings due a language barrier, said human rights attorney Mohammad Mostafaei. She speaks Turkish, the court proceedings were held in English.
Ashtiani’s sentence, death by stoning, is a staggering reminder of the rapid deterioration of human rights under President Ahmadinjad’s administration . As the international community continues to focus it’s attentions on nuclear concerns, human rights has taken the back seat and cases like Ashtiani’s go unnoticed.

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