Thursday, August 05, 2010

Further drama in the case of Sakineh Ashtiani

The international outcry about the imminent execution of Sakineh Ashtiani, convicted of adultery and sentenced to death by stoning in Iran, appears to have rattled the Iranian authorities. But their response so far has been a combination of intransigence and escalating repression. Iranian officials have opened up a new smear campaign against her, and her lawyer has been forced to flee the country.

=> Iranian officials now claim that Ashtiani is a convicted murderer as well as adulterer--but that her conviction for murder, oddly enough, had not been mentioned before now. According to the LA TImes's Babylon and Beyond blog:
In a surprise announcement, a judiciary official in provincial Iran said a woman who had been convicted and sentenced to stoning for adultery had also been convicted of murder.
A 2006 murder investigation into her husband's death had treated Ashtiani as a suspect, but in fact she was not convicted of those charges (another suspect was convicted) and was sentenced to death for adultery instead.
But on Sunday, Malek Ejdar Sharifi, head of East Azerbaijan Province's judiciary, told the official Islamic Republic News Agency (in Persian): "Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani has not been convicted of illicit sex only," he said. "She has been found guilty of numerous and extremely heavy offenses. She was sentenced to capital punishment [in 2006] in the criminal court in Tabriz, the center of the province, for committing murder, manslaughter and adultery." [....]

That's fresh news. Up until Sharifi's comments, Iranian officials and her lawyer said she was only convicted of adultery. [....]

Sharifi declined to outline Ashtiani's role in her husband's death, saying it would be just too darn shocking for the public.

"We can't express the details of her crimes due to moral and humane considerations," he said. "If the way her husband has been murdered is expressed, the brutality and insanity of this woman would be laid bare to public opinion. Her contribution to the murder of her husband was so harsh and heart-breaking that many criminologists believe that it would have been better for her to have decapitated her husband." [....]
We can probably assume that this a clumsy and implausible attempt at a last-minute smear. It is worth reiterating that Ashtiani's children are convinced that she is entirely innocent.

=> On Wednesday the International Campaign Against Stoning, which has taken up Ashtiani's cause, reported:
At today’s hearing regarding Ms Ashtiani’s case at Tehran’s High Court the chief of the 9th division, Davoudi, rejected a reopening of the trial and is instead considering Tabriz prosecutor Hossain Nobacht’s demand to execute Ms Ashtiani. Her case has now been transferred to the deputy prosecutor-general Saeed Mortazavi.

The High Court will confirm whether the execution of Ms Ashtiani can go ahead next week. [....]

Mina Ahadi from ICAS says: [....] "Putting Ms Ashtiani’s future in the hands of Saeed Mortazavi is a very bad sign. They are preparing Ms Ashtiani’s execution. [....]"

A confirmation of the execution order for Ms Ashtiani can mean that she might be executed very soon. ICAS calls on all human rights organisations, governments and individuals worldwide to continue putting pressure on the Islamic regime of Iran until Ms Ashtiani is freed.
=> Meanwhile, Ashtiani's legal situation has been complicated by the fact that she has lost her lawyer, Mohammad Mostafaei, one of Iran's most prominent human-rights attorneys.
Mohammad Mostafaei went into hiding after Iranian authorities detained three of his relatives and issued a warrant for his arrest. Mostafaei's brother-in-law and father-in law were subsequently released, but his wife remains in solitary confinement in Evin prison, although she has not been charged with any offence.
Mostafei managed to flee to Turkey--where he was arrested on immigration charges. He is now sitting in a Turkish jail and trying to obtain political asylum.

According to the Guardian's report:
Human rights activists expressed concern for Mostafaei's safety and the possibility that Turkey, an ally of Iran, might return him. [....] Mostafaei was concerned about his seven-year-old daughter who is with his wife's family in Iran.

The Guardian understands Norwegian and US officials met Mostafaei in prison and offered him asylum, but he was forced by Turkish officials to claim asylum with the UNHCR in Turkey or face extradition.

Amnesty International also expressed concern for his safety. Drewery Dyke of Amnesty's Iran team said: "We call upon the authorities to expedite Mostafaei's asylum request as he had a death threat in Turkey and is a target of the Iranian officials because of his involvement with Mohammadi Ashtiani's case."
And back in Iran:
Iranian authorites today told Mohammadi Ashtiani's current lawyer, Houtan Kian, that she still faces death by hanging. A final decision would be made next week.
Those of you who haven't done so might consider signing this international Petition to Save Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani.

--Jeff Weintraub