Thursday, November 11, 2010

Save Sakineh from death by stoning

SENTENCED TO death by stoning is Iranian woman Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani who was accused of committing adultery and other crimes. What a barbaric, messy way to kill a person.

I watched a convicted rapist die by lethal injection more than 10 years ago (after the death penalty was revived and enforced for several years) and I still remember the details. Although everything at the death chamber looked so antiseptic and clinical, I still considered the process brutal and merciless even as I shut off all emotions and concentrated on taking down notes. The next day I could not look at the photo of the convicted man that went with my front-page story.
Death by stoning is merciless and messy. Good thing a man named Jesus had, long ago, made a dramatic, slow-mo, bulls-eye pronouncement on it that stunned and stupefied the stoners of a woman caught in adultery. “Let anyone among you who is without sin cast the first stone.” And to the woman, “Go and sin no more.” Fantastic choice of words and with elocutory value, I must say.
But in this modern society and in some cultures, death by stoning is still a form of punishment. As in the case of Sakineh. A news report last week datelined Tehran said, “Iran said on Wednesday that a woman sentenced to death by stoning was in perfect health and that her case was still being reviewed after Western officials expressed concern her execution was imminent.

“Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast accused Western governments of a ‘shameless’ attempt to pressure Iran over the case by turning it into a human rights issue.”

But it is a human rights issue.

This brings to mind a gripping 1980 British docu-drama, “Death of a Princess,” believed to be based on a true story of Princess Masha’il from the Middle East. The princess and her lover, a commoner, were publicly executed. I remember watching the film on Betamax in the 20th century when DVD and Internet were not yet in our vocabulary.

We’re now in the 21st century and punishment of death by stoning—public, I suppose—is still being meted out.

Sakineh is not a Muslim princess. But because of new media technology, she might be luckier than the princess who was beheaded. There is a petition on the Internet calling for Sakineh’s immediate release. Add your name to the signatories (close to a million) from around the world who are calling for her release. Log on to en/24h_to_save_sakineh/98.php?CLICKTF

Here are excerpts from Amnesty International’s (AI) write-up on Sakineh, “A Life in the Balance.”

“Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 43-year-old mother of two from north-west Iran, has spent years expecting her life to be cruelly ended at any moment. Since 2006 she has faced execution by stoning, the sentence imposed unfairly after she was convicted of “adultery while married.” Her fate remains in the hands of an arbitrary and flawed justice system that has failed her from the start. Her desperate situation has led countless people across the world to take action on her behalf, action met by obfuscatory statements by the Iranian authorities regarding her legal situation. The authorities now appear to be planning to secure her execution for a different alleged offence—murder.

“A woman of humble origins, Sakineh is from Iran’s Azerbaijani minority, many of whom face discrimination. Her mother tongue is Azeri Turkic. She has limited knowledge of Persian, the language used by the interrogators and courts that questioned, tried and convicted her. She initially ‘confessed’ in the absence of any lawyer, but withdrew her ‘confession’ in court…

“Sakineh was detained in 2005 following the murder of her husband Ebrahim Qaderzadeh. Although initially accused of murder, her children did not press charges against her, as is their right… which could have led to her being sentenced to death by hanging…Instead, she was charged and convicted… for her alleged participation in the murder, and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment, the maximum sentence. According to a court document seen by AI, this sentence was initially upheld by the Supreme Court. However, according to Javid Houtan Kiyan, her current lawyer, in 2009 a judicial review by the Supreme Court led to the conviction of murder being changed to “complicity” in murder. As a result, he says the sentence was reduced to five years—the maximum sentence for this offence. By late September 2010, this five-year term would either have been served or nearly served.

“Apparently arising out of the investigations into her husband’s murder, in May 2006 Sakineh was convicted of having had ‘illicit relations’ with two men, for which she was flogged 99 times in the presence of her son Sajjad. Despite this, she was later additionally charged with ‘adultery while married’ and on 10 September 2006 was sentenced to death by stoning, the mandatory punishment under Article 83 of the Penal Code.

“She was found guilty by three of the five judges who heard her case. Although she told the court that her ‘confession’ had been forced out of her and was not true. The three judges convicted her on the basis of ‘the knowledge of the judge’, a provision in Iranian law that allows judges to decide on subjective grounds whether or not a defendant is guilty even if there is no clear or conclusive evidence...”

Shadi Sadr, Iranian lawyer, anti-stoning campaigner and women’s rights activist, told AI: “Iran is justly criticized for such acts [stoning] but people shouldn’t forget that many Iranians abhor this practice and are working to end it. It has nothing to do with our culture, but has all to do with an unfair justice system which discriminates against women at many levels.”

Let us help save Sakineh.