Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Iran's ruling elite struggles over how to manage the fallout from the Ashtiani case (Ann Mayer)

According to the BBC's John Leyne, the continuing international outcry over the case of Sakineh Ashtiani, sentenced to death by stoning on (probably bogus) charges of adultery, to which trumped-up charges of murder have recently been added, has been causing diplomatic problems for the Iranian government. I should hope so.

However, that's only part of the story. The analysis offered by Ann Mayer, guest-posted below, digs deeper. The Ashtiani case has helped to bring out and sharpen some significant tactical splits and tensions within Iran's ruling elite.
On the one hand, Iran has decided that it wants to follow Saudi Arabia's example and worm its way into the UN human rights system with a view to subverting and perverting it. [....] For those members of the regime who seek to advance Iran's role in the UN human rights system, the Sakineh Ashtiani case is acutely embarrassing. They really do not want Iran to be seen as a country that stones to death a woman for adultery and realize that this case makes the mentality of the regime appear to be both primitive and sexist. [....]

On the other hand, there are apparently many hardliners who think that stoning -- or at least hanging - women for adultery is an excellent way of signaling their tough-minded approach to women's immorality and of intimidating women who are not inclined to defer meekly to clerical admonitions to uphold Islamic norms for women's conduct. [....]

It is amusing to observe the official class of the IRI engaged in infighting and squirming as its members try to develop a politically viable party line on human rights and on women's rights in particular, meanwhile getting tangled up in their own webs of lies and hypocrisy. [....]
But these are disagreements over rhetoric and public relations, not fundamental policies. Although feelings of disgust at the penalty of death by stoning is entirely justified, it would be wrong to let a focus on this specific penalty
be a distraction from the much broader issues behind the case. These relate to the egregious failure to adhere to basic tenets of the rule of law on the part of Iran's courts and judges and their routine recourse to torture to induce victims of specious criminal charges to make "confessions" of their guilt. [....]
Correct. Read the whole thing (below).

--Jeff Weintraub

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Iran's ruling elite struggles over how to manage the fallout from the Ashtiani case
Guest-posted by Ann Elizabeth Mayer
Department of Legal Studies & Business Ethics
The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

Iran's "human rights" policy is in considerable disarray, as the discordant voices recently emanating from various segments of the ruling elite prove.

On the one hand, Iran has decided that it wants to follow Saudi Arabia's example and worm its way into the UN human rights system with a view to subverting and perverting it. To that end, Iran has felt compelled to alter its rhetoric - while not necessarily altering its actual policies - to obscure its fundamental hostility to the philosophy of human rights, which it must do in order to be a player in the UN human rights system. Instead of its former defiant repudiation of human rights as secular or "too Western" for use in the Islamic Republic, it now opts for the route of hypocrisy, as when it pretended in its February 2010 statement to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that Iran has a "firm commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights." In 2009 the IRI also tried hard, but failed, to get a position on the UN Human Rights Council. However, it succeeded earlier this year in engineering its membership of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, an entity that is supposed to set standards for the advancement of women's equality. To make any impact there, Iran must try to preserve the fiction that it is committed to upholding women's rights.

For those members of the regime who seek to advance Iran's role in the UN human rights system, the Sakineh Ashtiani case is acutely embarrassing. They really do not want Iran to be seen as a country that stones to death a woman for adultery and realize that this case makes the mentality of the regime appear to be both primitive and sexist. One can see evidence of official compunctions in the efforts that have been made to recharacterize Ashtiani as a woman who is guilty of a murder so heinous that the regime cannot even bear to publicize the details, and in the Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast's statement to a news conference that punishing Ashtiani for her crime cannot be a human rights issue, since European countries likewise punish murderers.

On the other hand, there are apparently many hardliners who think that stoning -- or at least hanging - women for adultery is an excellent way of signaling their tough-minded approach to women's immorality and of intimidating women who are not inclined to defer meekly to clerical admonitions to uphold Islamic norms for women's conduct. For the hardliners, it is natural to do what the prominent hard-line newspaper Kayhan just did, to lash out at Carla Bruni for her denunciation of the plans to execute Ashtiani. Repeating slurs made by other hardliners, Kayhan a few days ago called Bruni a prostitute. Today it maintained that Bruni's sordid personal history shows why she would support a woman who committed adultery and who killed her husband. Referring to Bruni's own colorful sex life, Kayhan concluded that Bruni's record of immorality showed "she herself deserves death." Of course, this would not be the first time that the IRI has acted as if entitled to deploy what are said to be Islamic standards to call for punishment of conduct occurring in Europe, but the scurrilous attacks on the wife of the French President represent a striking instance of incivility and a sharp breach of diplomatic norms.

The hapless Mehmanparast as the Foreign Ministry point man now has the task of trying to mitigate the harm that is being done to the image of the IRI, stating publicly that it did not endorse "insulting officials of other countries and using indecent words," and enjoining Iran's media to refrain from using such language.

It is amusing to observe the official class of the IRI engaged in infighting and squirming as its members try to develop a politically viable party line on human rights and on women's rights in particular, meanwhile getting tangled up in their own webs of lies and hypocrisy.

In the meanwhile, as deplorable as the plight of Sakineh Ashtiani is as she confronts an execution on trumped-up charges of murder, one should not let a preoccupation with the shocking penalty be a distraction from the much broader issues behind the case. These relate to the egregious failure to adhere to basic tenets of the rule of law on the part of Iran's courts and judges and their routine recourse to torture to induce victims of specious criminal charges to make "confessions" of their guilt. What would be seen as outrageous affronts to principles of due process in modern systems of criminal justice that adhere to international standards have been so routine in the criminal justice system of the IRI that people may overlook how the lack of any protections for the rights of the criminal accused played into this case. Without any reforms being taken to enhance respect for due process, hordes of new victims will be doomed to suffer in the course of criminal proceedings that can only be called diabolical. Their plight should not be forgotten, even if the sentences meted out to them do not occasion the aversion that the idea of stoning someone to death does.

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