Ashtiani: more news, mostly bad

The latest news on Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the woman at risk of stoning in Iran, is far from reassuring.

It's being claimed that she’s been lashed – 99 times – because a photograph of her without a chador covering has been published.

As readers of The Times will know, this relates to a photo published by that newspaper last month, though the paper later said this was actually a mistake and that the image hadn’t been of Sakineh. Whatever the truth, it’s abhorrent that a woman could be lashed for this supposed “crime” and if true would be part of a concerted effort from the Iranian authorities to punish her and her supporters for having mounted a major international campaign about her plight.

So, a woman who has already spent five years in prison, been put though an unfair trial process, been lashed at least once (she has already been lashed for having “an illicit relationship”) and, of course, been sentenced to die by being stoned to death, this woman is still being persecuted and still faces execution (as early as the end of Ramadan according to her lawyer Javid Houtan Kian).

By most standards Sakineh’s case would be an extraordinary one-off, but not in Iran. True, her case is especially extreme but many others are raising a host of urgent concerns as well. For example, the human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and the women’s rights activist Shiva Nazar Ahari are both facing imprisonment or (in Shiva’s case) even death in a fresh clampdown that Shirin Ebadi thinks is meant to warn Iran’s human rights activists that "they have to pay a high price if they want to pursue their work in the country". (Take action for Shiva Nazar Ahari here). Yet another case is that of Ronak Safarzadeh, a young woman who seems to have been jailed (for five years) for her work trying to defend woman's human rights.

Overall, the human rights situation in Iran seems, if anything, to be deteriorating.

France’s foreign minister Bernard Kouchner has vowed to go to Iran in person to help secure Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s freedom – and I wish him well. But it’s hardly realistic to expect foreign politicians to go on special visitations for individual cases in the long term. Instead we need serious reform in the country itself. No sign of that yet, but we can but hope. Meanwhile, please keep up the pressure over Ashtiani and others at risk in Iran.


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