Woman facing execution by stoning for adultery in Iran

Those (few?) of you who are willing to pay for online content will have noticed that the Times has gone really big today on the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtianai, a woman facing execution by stoning in Iran.

In May 2006 she was convicted of having had an “illicit relationship” with two men and received 99 lashes as her sentence. In a separate trial she was subsequently convicted of “adultery while being married", which she has denied, and was sentenced to death by stoning.  Her death sentence was confirmed by the Supreme Court in May 2007 and appeals to Iran’s Amnesty and Clemency Commission have twice been rejected. She could now be executed at any time.

Stoning is a particularly cruel punishment, deliberately designed to cause a slow and painful death. Article 104 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code says: ‘The size of the stone used in stoning shall not be too large to kill the convict by one or two throws and at the same time shall not be too small to be called a stone.’

Women are buried up to their chests (men up to their waists) and stones are then hurled at them until they are slowly battered to death. And this isn’t the only difference between men and women when it comes to stoning. Women are not treated equally before the law and courts: the weight attached to the evidence of a man is equivalent to that of two women, and in cases dealing with some offences, including adultery, testimony by a woman alone or given jointly with just one man cannot be accepted as evidence.

Discrimination against women in other aspects of their lives also leaves them more usceptible to conviction for adultery. Women are allowed only one sexual partner in life, their husband, whereas men are allowed four permanent wives and an unlimited number of temporary wives.

Women also face strict controls on their behaviour that are imposed and policed by the state, controls that are discriminatory and restrict their right to freedom of expression and movement. Despite such controls and some gender segregation, when women come into conflict with the law they are usually arrested, interrogated and judged by men irrespective of the intimidation, harassment and fear that this may involve

Amnesty’s figures suggest that ten other people – seven women and three men – currently have stoning sentences hanging over them. 

Thankfully it’s not widely used: Amnesty has documented only 6 executions by stoning since 2006 and these are mainly in rural backwaters rather than in the capital Tehran. It would be wrong to focus too much on stoning at the expense of other executions: last year 388 people were executed in Iran, often after unfair trials. Only one of them was by stoning. Iran is also the only country that continues to execute child offenders, people who were under 18 at the time of their alleged offence: we are currently campaigning for Mohammed Reza Haddadi, facing imminent execution (by hanging) for a murder that happened when he was just 15 and which he says he did not commit.

Stoning is an horrific punishment and if you want to join our campaign to stop it you can do so here. But all executions, no matter where or how they take place are inhuman – what we really need is an end to the death penalty, not just in Iran but worldwide.

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