Iran: Casting the last stone
I’m still staggered that anyone could think it’s OK to partially-bury someone in the ground and throw stones at them until they’re dead. I’d be pretty sickened if I heard that some sadistic criminal had done it. But for this punishment to be handed down by a judge and carried out within the law is beyond belief.
That’s what’s about to happen in Iran, though. A woman called Kobra Babaei is at imminent risk of being stoned to death. Amnesty supporters are campaigning for the stoning to be stopped, and for this punishment to be scrapped altogether.
I’d hope that even most death penalty advocates would draw the line at this. Whenever we hear of a particularly sick crime in the UK, there are usually a few calls from extreme members of the public for the person to be killed as cruelly as possible. But it’s never the majority view. And what is Kobra Babaei accused of? Sex outside of marriage.
I know plenty of people who’ve been cheated on by their partner. It’s a selfish, hurtful thing to do to someone. But it’s nevertheless a matter between the couple themselves – not one for the law to get involved in. And in the case of Kobra, the infidelity was reportedly with her husband’s consent: the couple were destitute and looking after their 12-year-old daughter. They reportedly resorted to prostitution to make ends meet. There’s more detail about the case in this letter from her lawyer, here: it’s a sad story rather than one that cries out for vengeance.
Kobra’s husband, Rahim, was hanged for ‘sodomy’ recently. His lawyer says that he had never committed this crime, but the authorities pinned it on him so they didn’t have to sentence him to stoning. Even in a country that permits stoning, most people apparently don’t approve of it and it’s mainly done with little publicity, in rural areas. And thankfully every case of stoning is accompanied by an international outcry.
Of course, it’s only the man whose sentence is changed. Being hanged is hardly getting off lightly, but it does underline the fact that almost all stonings are of women as a way of exerting control over their lives and as a result of discrimination. If Kobra Babaei was working as a prostitute, you can safely say that none of her wealthier male customers need fear that they too could face stoning.
There’s a growing campaign against the practice, inside Iran and around the world. Have a look at the Stop Stoning Forever petition and the Stop Stoning campaign sites. I hear that MPs here are planning to speak out about this case too. Our experience shows that public pressure can work when it comes to the Iranian judicial authorities, so do get involved. It may be some time before we stop discrimination against women in Iran and other countries around the world. But getting rid of this most disgusting and inhumane example of it would certainly be a start.
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