Monday, September 13, 2010

Sakineh Ashtiani on death row — Stoning sentence "suspended"

Sakineh Ashtiani's sentence of death by stoning for adultery has apparently been suspended—but not canceled, it is important to add. According to an Associated Press report on Thursday:
Iran says it has put the stoning on hold for now, but has also indicated Ashtiani could be hanged for her conviction of playing a role in her husband's 2005 murder. [....]

Ashtiani's lawyer, Houtan Javid Kian, has said that there has been no change in her case and the stoning sentence was suspended but not officially canceled. He has said Ashtiani was never formally put on trial on the charge of being an accomplice to murder and was not allowed to mount a defense.
Meanwhile, the international outcry about Ashtiani's case continues to build—which may well be keeping her alive. The Europeans, in particular, are becoming increasingly outspoken.
Foreign Minister Steven Vanackere of Belgium, which holds the EU's rotating presidency, said that Iran's concession that the punishment against Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani could be eased did not meet the human rights conditions the EU is insisting on. [....] This week, several European Union nations and the continent's biggest human rights organization have criticized Iran for its plan to stone the 43-year-old mother of two even if Tehran has put the plan on hold for now. [....]

"This inhuman conviction is indefensible and has raised our abhorrence," Vanackere said in a statement. "Human rights, particularly women's rights, are systematically thwarted" in Iran. [....]

Earlier this week, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso called stoning "barbaric" and several EU nations also criticized Tehran for its stand. They were joined by the European Parliament and the 47-nation Council of Europe human rights organization. [....]
On Friday, the Iranian lawyer, human rights activist, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi declared that maintaining and increasing this pressure is essential—especially since Ashtiani's case is just one example of much broader patterns of abuse:
Nobel peace-winner Shirin Ebadi has called on world leaders to fight to end the practice of death by stoning in Iran. She says Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani, the Iranian woman whose earlier death sentence by stoning caused international outcry, is not the only one facing this fate.

In Brussels to meet EU officials, Ebadi says she has little faith that Tehran would spare Mohammadi-Ashtiani despite a suspension of her death by lapidation sentence last July.

"I have no trust in what the government says," she said at a news conference.

"But I say that apart from Sakineh there are several others awaiting death by stoning. Let us save them all."

Ebadi, who has not returned to Iran since leaving for a seminar abroad just days before the disputed June 2009 re-election, said the human rights situation had deteriorated in the country, as had poverty.

More than 800 political prisoners remained in jail while more than 4000 had been released, but many only after posting cripplingly heavy bail.

Lawyer Ebadi said she and other Iranian human rights activists were working to end not only execution by stoning and torture, but also to overturn laws that currently hit children the hardest.

The age of criminal responsibility was nine for girls and 15 for boys, she said. "That means that if a 10-year-old girl perpetrates a crime she is sentenced in the same way as a 40-year-old man. That is why Iran has the highest number of juvenile executions in the world." [....]
It may be that the Iranian regime is just waiting for the international outcry to die down before going ahead with Ashtiani's execution ... or it may be that it is still deciding precisely what to do next. Those of you who would like to add your signatures to a petition calling for for her release can do so here.

--Jeff Weintraub