Sakineh Ashtiani Still At Risk

Yesterday, misleading reports surfaced that Sakineh Ashtiani may have been released from prison in Iran.  Yet today we received reports that Iran’s state-controlled Press TV will tonight broadcast a new “confession” by the Iranian woman who faces possible execution by stoning or hanging.

Philip Luther, Amnesty’s Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme explains: “If reports are accurate that tonight’s broadcast will contain another televised ‘confession’ from Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, its potential impact on her case should not be underestimated.  If the authorities are seeking to use this ‘confession’ to try to construct a new case against her, for a crime that she’s already been tried and sentenced for, we would condemn this in the strongest terms.”

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani was sentenced to a 10-year prison term in 2006 for the murder of her husband, which her lawyer has said was subsequently reduced to five years for “complicity” in the murder.

She was also sentenced to death by stoning for “adultery while married”. Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is held in Tabriz Prison, East Azerbaijan province, awaiting the outcome of a judicial review of her stoning sentence.

According to media reports a production team from Press TV collected Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani from prison, along with her son Sajjad Qaderzadeh, who is also currently detained, and took them to her former home to produce a “visual recount of the crime at the murder scene”, apparently for a “documentary”.


Fears Grow for Iran Stoning Case Lawyer and Son

As reports surfaced this week of the imminent execution of Iran’s Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, we are also grew increasingly concerned with the fate of her lawyer and son.  We fear they are being held solely for trying to pass on information about her case.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is the 43-year-old mother of two at risk of execution by stoning, held on death row in Iran since her conviction in 2006 on charges of “adultery while married”.

The Iranian State Prosecutor, in his role as spokesperson for the judiciary, confirmed on Monday that Javid Houtan Kiyan, Sakineh Ashtiani’s lawyer, had been arrested on October 10 and that he was still under investigation for links to “anti-revolutionary groups abroad”.  He also said that Javid Houtan Kiyan had been found in possession of three forged or duplicate ID cards.

Media reports have said that Javid Houtan Kiyan was arrested along with Sajjad Ghaderzadeh, the son of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, and two German nationals.

We fear that Javid Houtan Kiyan may have been detained for no more than fulfilling his responsibilities as Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s lawyer, and for talking to foreign nationals.

His detention – part of the Iranian authorities ongoing targeting of defence lawyers – further undermines an already deeply flawed justice system which has failed Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani from the start.  She has been left for weeks without legal representation and without access to any family visits, which makes her situation all the more precarious.

The Iranian authorities have a track-record of bringing politically-motivated trumped up criminal charges against defense lawyers.


Afghan Couple Stoned to Death

“We love each other no matter what happens.” Those were some of the last words of Khayyam and Siddiqa before they were stoned to death for ‘eloping’. This was the first stoning in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Surrounded by many of the victims’ neighbors and even their family members, the couple received this gruesome punishment handed down by an Islamic Council.

In fact, the execution was carried out two days after the Council of Ulema called on the Afghan government to implement harsher shari’a punishments, which included public stoning, lashing and amputations.

In an interview with MSNBC’s ‘Hardball with Chris Matthews’, Asia Pacific director T. Kumar, recently spoke on the implications of the stoning in Afghanistan (see video above).

© Amnesty International

Amnesty International called on the Afghan government and the Council of Ulema not to abuse human rights by renouncing the use of stoning as a punishment. In addition, we recommended that the International Criminal court investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity in light of the “increasing brutality of the Taliban and other insurgent groups” towards Afghan citizens.

Despite continuous efforts by international human rights groups and governments, the method of execution by stoning still remains a legal punishment in several other countries. They include Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates.

The news of the couple stoned to death is a tragic and ironic remainder of ongoing abuses of human rights in Afghanistan. The Council of Ulema and the Afghan government must denounce stoning as a punishment and cease from using it.

Iran Must End Harassment of Stoning Case Lawyer

We reported last month that Iran halted the stoning of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani. And while this may seem like cause for celebration, an uneasy cloud of uncertainty has shrouded this potential victory.  We still fear that Ashtiani may be hanged, as charges against her have surfaced in connection to the murder of her husband.

Mostafaei is defending Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who was sentenced to death by stoning.

But this is not the only unsettling development for those involved in the case.  Yesterday, we denounced the arrest of Mohammad Mostafaei’s wife and brother-in-law, Fereshteh and Farhad Halimi, urging the Iranian authorities to stop harassing Mostafaei.

Mostafaei, a leading human rights lawyer, is defense counsel for Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, whose sentence of death by stoning for alleged adultery recently provoked wide an international public outcry and is a focus of continuing protests and worldwide demands for clemency.

He was issued with a summons on July 21 requiring him to go to a branch of the Prosecutor’s Office in Evin Prison. He went there on July 24, was questioned for at least one hour and then was released. Later, however, he received a further summons by telephone. The same evening, his wife and her brother were arrested and have been detained since.

Mostafaei’s current whereabouts are not known. On the evening of July 24, he wrote on his Facebook account: “it is possible they will arrest me.”

Amnesty International is urging its membership to appeal to the head of the Iranian Judiciary and other authorities to stop harassing Mostafaei and release Fereshteh and Farhad Halimi.

Mother to be stoned to death in Iran

UPDATE:  Iran halted death by stoning for Ashtiani.  However she could still face the death penalty.  Please take action to stop the execution.

On June 30, Amnesty  reported that Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian mother of two, could be stoned to death at any moment.

Her crime?  Adultery.

While extreme cases of adultery in the US turn into tabloid fodder, Iran’s penal code prescribes execution by stoning as the penalty for adultery by married persons.

Ashtiani was convicted after confessing in 2006.  Human rights lawyer, Mohammad Mostafaei, however, said Thursday that her confession was coerced; Ashtiani only confessed after suffering 99 lashes.  And though Ashtiani has since retracted her confession, Iran’s supreme court upheld the conviction in 2007.

Amnesty International reported in 2008 that the majority of those sentenced to death by stoning are women.

Mina Ahadi, head of the International Committee Against Stoning and the Death Penalty, believes that pressure from groups like Amnesty International is the only likely way to save Ashtiani.

On Wednesday, Amnesty International made a new call to the Iranian government to immediately halt all executions and put a halt on all death sentences.  According to Amnesty, Iran has issued 126 executions so far in 2010.

In 2007, in reaction to another stoning case in Iran, Amnesty International UK Director, Kate Allen, said, “To execute anyone by stoning is barbaric and disgraceful; to execute a woman for adultery in this cruel way simply beggars belief… Iran should abolish the sentence of stoning once and for all.

Of course, Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases.  Execution by stoning, however, is particularly cruel, because according to Iranian penal code, it is specifically designed to increase the victim’s suffering since the stones are deliberately chosen to be large enough to cause pain, but not so large as to kill the victim immediately.

Iran, Ohio, and the Question of Executing the Same Person Twice

In Iran, in January of this year, a man being stoned to death for adultery managed to survive his ordeal by digging his way out of the pit in which he had been buried.  According to an Amnesty International report, citing Iran’s penal code, “if the condemned person manages to escape from the pit, they will not be stoned again if they had been sentenced after confession.” The man who escaped in January was not stoned again that day, though it is believed he was taken back into custody.

Today, Ohio faces a similar dilemma.  Romell Broom survived the Buckeye state’s attempts to execute him by lethal injection, due to the failure of his executioners to find a useful vein in which to inject the poison.    Does this mean Mr. Broom will no longer face the needle, or will Ohio subject him to a second execution?  It appears that the latter is the case (Ohio Governor Ted Strickland merely granted Mr. Broom a week-long reprieve), although there may be arguments in court that being executed twice would constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

Ohio has had these problems before: the execution of Christopher Newton (who “volunteered” to be executed by giving up his appeals) took 90 minutes, and the lethal injection of Joseph Clark took 40.  In both cases, the delay was the result of the inability of the execution team to find suitable veins.

Given that this horrible problem keeps re-occurring, it would be wise for Ohio Governor Ted Strickland to at least declare a moratorium and halt executions in his state.

Sensationalist Film Exploits Important Human Rights Issue in Iran

Ordinarily, human rights activists would be pleased when the rare major motion picture shining a light on human rights violations comes along. In fact, aside from documentaries, it is very unusual to see issues that Amnesty International has worked on appear on film. However, sometimes a film can so distort an important human rights issue, that it may do more harm than good to the cause.

Sadly, this is the case with the new movie opening this Friday, “The Stoning of Soraya M,” the purportedly true story of the brutal execution by stoning of an innocent Iranian village woman. For one thing, the film is marked by crude story-telling: the main character Soraya is merely a mutely suffering victim while her brutish husband, who falsely accuses her of adultery so that he can marry a teen-aged girl, is a cardboard caricature of evil and malice. More importantly, aside from the numerous inaccuracies and implausibilities, the climax of the film—a bloody and prolonged stoning scene with villagers mercilessly pelting the victim—is so sensationalized that the audience response is likely to be disgust and revulsion at Iranians themselves, who are portrayed as primitive and blood-thirsty savages.

The film is presented as an indictment of Iranian society as a whole, and the setting—a remote rural village of about 25 years ago—is presented as typical of contemporary Iran. In the film, the victim’s aunt (who though she is supposed to be an ignorant village woman, inexplicably speaks excellent English and smokes cigarettes with 1940s femme fatale flourishes) is eager to have the French-Iranian journalist, who stops in the village shortly after the incident, smuggle a tape of her relating the story out of the village. She states that she wants the whole world to know what happened there, presumably so that those on the outside (the west?) can rescue the benighted Iranian people from their barbaric practices.

In fact, Iranians themselves—and in particular Iranian women’s rights activists– have organized and carried out a vigorous campaign against the practice of stoning and have themselves been actively documenting the practice. Opposition to the practice occurs at the highest level of the Iranian legal system; the Head of the Iranian Judiciary announced a moratorium on stoning back in 2002 and it was reiterated in August 2008. Sadly, at least three people have been executed by stoning since then. Interestingly, all three were men.

By criticizing the film, I am not dismissing the importance of the issue. Amnesty International issued a major report on stoning in January 2008, in which it is described how this form of execution is prescribed for adultery—although in practice, it is usually adultery in conjunction with some other crime, such as being an accessory to the murder of a husband. Furthermore stonings are carried out in prison yards by government agents, not by members of the community.

Crucially, we must look at stoning in the overall context of executions in Iran. Stonings represent a tiny fraction of executions in that country. Iran executes more people than any other country in the world except for China. In 2008 it executed at least 346, the overwhelming majority of whom were executed by hanging, sometimes for politically motivated offenses, and often after flawed legal proceedings. But again, Iranians don’t need people from outside Iran telling them what is good for them because Iranians themselves have taken the lead in opposing executions in their country. The renowned Iranian human rights activist Emadeddin Baghi was recently awarded the prestigious Martin Ennals award, partially for his anti-death penalty activism.

I would urge those who really want to see important social issues in Iran critically examined should check out some of the great films made in Iran such as “A Time for Drunken Horses” which deals with poverty among Iran’s Kurdish minority, “The Day I Became a Woman” and “As Simple As That” about the frustrations experienced by women in Iran, and “Santoori” which deals with drug addiction.

An accurate and thoughtful film about executions in Iran would be welcome, but we will still have to wait as the “Stoning of Soraya M” is not it.