Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Crime: Adultery. Sentence: Death by Stoning.

Four years ago, in Iran, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani was convicted of having an ''illicit relationship’’ with two men. A review of her case resulted in her and one of her alleged lovers being charged with the murder of her husband. Ashtiani denied the charges brought against her and she was cleared of murder. However, three of the five male judges decided that she was still guilty of adultery. Punishment: death by stoning.

This case has gained an increasing amount of attention after Ashtiani’s son wrote an open letter to Iran’s leaders stating: ‘’There is no justice in this country.’’ A number of human rights activists, celebrities and politicians have joined the campaign against this outrageous punishment. This has incited Iranian authorities to declare that Ashtiani will not be stoned at present, however the final verdict is still uncertain.

The few countries where stoning is still a legal punishment include Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan and Iran, where it is seen to be a form of tribal retribution. It is often mistaken to be a typically Islamic practice but many campaigners against stoning are Muslim, who believe it is highly immoral and damaging to the countries which allow it to take place. It is also written in the Koran that the punishment for adultery is NOT stoning, but for the adulterous wife to be ’confined to their house until death overtakes them,’ and that four witnesses must be produced for the illicit activity to be proven.

Stoning was introduced in 1983 after the Islamic Revolution. In the 1980s and 1990s, it is thought that hundreds of women suffered in this way, however in 2002 after a wide national outcry, Mahmoud Hashemi, the chief of Iran’s judiciary, imposed a suspension of this law. This was never formally amended, so stoning continued to occur but it was carried out with more restraint so as not to draw attention to it. It is said there are, at present, 12 other Iranian women besides Ashtiani who are awaiting execution by stoning.

It is beyond belief that this practice is still continued today and it is largely due to the fact that it is one of many ways in which the Iranian regime controls its population. Not all death sentences are carried out, but are instead used as a threat to those opposing the Iranian regime. Although Ashtiani’s case still makes headline news, many other cases of equal magnitude go unreported. There were at least 388 people executed in Iran in 2009 and 126 this year so far. This is more than any other country in the word besides China. Most of these executions are carried out by hanging, but a small proportion are still put to death by stoning.

Such severe and inhumane behaviour is unlikely to stop any time soon but that does not make it an issue to place on the back burner. With cases such as Ashtiani’s receiving so much attention, it makes it impossible for the problem to be ignored.

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