IRAN: STATE STILL STONES WOMEN

by Assieh Amini, Stop Stoning Forever Campaign

Despite official denials, the stoning to death of women and sometimes men for such offenses as adultery continues in Iran, with state sanction. Iran's Stop Stoning Forever Campaign documents and protests such instances, in cooperation with contacts abroad in the International Campaign Against Stoning. The Campaign's members have been repeatedly harassed and arrested by Iran's authorities. The author of this report, Assieh Amini, was arrested most recently at a rally in front of a Tehran courthouse this March, protesting the detainment of several women at a march against enforcement of sharia law in June of last year. While Amini was released after several days, some of those arrested at the June 2006 march were sentenced to more three years—as well receiving a prescribed number of whip lashes. All members of Stop Stoning Forever remain under risk.

One year and three months a go, a man and a woman were stoned to death in Behesht-Reza near Mashad. When we followed up and reported it, the authorities, including the late Karimi-Rad, Justice Department spokesman, denied it. Even our own friends and colleagues repeatedly reminded us that following a directive issued by the head of the judiciary in 1381 (2002), there have not been any stonings in Iran .

While this indifference was going on, another convict in Ahwaz was told to get ready to be stoned to death.

We had gone to Ahwaz to meet with the woman's lawyer and family to see if there was any way we could save her. That's when we heard there was another woman in Jolfa in a similar predicament whose case is truly shocking.

The woman in Jolfa had already been taken to be stoned once before. She was a smart woman who had read books on related laws while in prison, and who had reminded the judge on the day of her execution, that her execution would have been illegal since she had not yet received a reply to her latest appeal. The judge was swayed to postpone the execution until the appeal is heard. The woman's elderly mother and her pro bono lawyers publicized her case as they pursued legal remedies. Eventually, the sentence was overturned, she was re-tried and acquitted of adultery.

These events, which can be amply documented—and what document could be better than living witnesses?—were happening at a time when the authorities were denying them, and ordinary citizens doubted they could happen.

[Translator's note: Apparently, while stoning is a permissible punishment in Islamic Republic's penal code, it is not practiced with any fanfare, or even overtly. Most cases involve poor, uneducated defendants, usually women, in rural areas which seldom receive national attention. The sentence is usually handed down by a local judge who then oversees its execution.]

Why This Campaign?

It was during these times that Stop Stoning Forever Campaign came to being. Our goals were to find cases, research them, help find attorneys who would vigorously represent the defense, organize activism & publicity, and, ultimately, free the convicts with an eye towards abolishing stoning altogether. Stoning is a cruel and backward punishment. We knew that raising awareness about an issue like stoning in the 21st century is not just about saving one life or changing one law. It will inevitably lead to examining other draconian or discriminatory laws in the court of public opinion.

Founders of this campaign had previously been active in other human rights and women's causes. Their focus on stoning was initially seen [by critics] as a struggle over something "that's not all that important."

There were several reason this campaign was not initially taken seriously. One was that the number of cases involved was small. Second, it seemed as if this was a single injustice against women and not legally very broad. Third, some people questioned why challenge a law that is not supposed to be enforced anyway?

Fourth, there were some who felt stoning was not a cause for legal activism but a matter of prevailing social customs that consider sexual indiscretions unforgivable. Needless to say, these "customs" typically leave a thousand loopholes for men to escape the charge of adultery. In other words, the fourth group believed that as long as there are people in society who are willing to throw stones at an adulterer—or even willing to witness it as a public ritual—then this loans some legitimacy to stoning as a punishment.

There were more than a few objections but we were aware of the issues. For example, we've known all along that when you fight against something like stonings, just as the law needs to be changed, so do certain underlying social power bases that go with it. Case in point: Why is that in countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan or Iraq, it is not the state or law enforcement who carry out stonings, but these stonings, like all other honor killings, are the wish and will of the local men? Furthermore, the more tradition and custom enters the equation, the more anti-woman the formula gets. Why is it, in Pakistan, for instance, the punishment for a man who rapes a woman is to let the victim's male relatives rape one of the rapist's female relatives? These are matters of masculine honor which punish any perceived sexual indiscretion by women according to a traditional patriarchal order.

In any case, the Stop Stoning Forever Campaign was formed and carried on for several reasons:

First, the severity of the act embodies "cruel and unusual punishment" prior to a preordained death. Even if someone escapes this fate, you can't expect them to escape the psychological trauma that follows them for the rest of their lives [not to mention the social stigma]. Stoning convicts are typically some of the neediest, most destitute people in society. It's hard to ignore them and still call yourself a woman's rights or human rights activist.

Second, even though the number of stonings in Iran is small, and even though men are among the victims, these cases almost always involve gender discrimination against women.

The nightmare that is the life of a stoning defendant is part of a tunnel of horrors through which a woman has traveled all her life, unable to choose her spouse, unable to get a divorce, precluded from equal inheritance, subjected to her husband's polygamy, deprived of sexual freedoms, financially dependant, unworthy of her children's custody, etc. She stands at the end of this tunnel. Are there not people, especially women, who know this tunnel well, and who walk the halls of the legal system, that can help these victims?

This aid, this comfort, does not in any way condone what is referred to as "infidelity." This is support for a human being's right to choose his or her fate, regardless of gender. This is support for equality under law. It is also a reflection of the need to reform social institutions to benefit women.

Women's rights activism in our predominantly visual culture needs visual arguments. The image of half-burying someone alive and stoning them to death is a compelling picture.

One can not read Hajieh's story and not feel compassion for her. When you read Makrameh's story, you'll no doubt appreciate the case for allowing young girls to choose their own spouses. This campaign tries to delve into the lives of the men and women who are victims of stonings and reveal them to society. We want to follow their stories and study the relationship between their particular lives and the place women have in society.

Today, the result may be the knowledge that a person's life was taken under a barrage of stones. But these events were happening before, away from the scrutiny of public opinion. Once we shine a light on such acts, in a world where international treaties demand respect for human dignity, someone has to answer for these acts. This time, the reality of what heretofore was reported as "sharia justice," and was recorded in death certificates as "execution without resistance," can come into public view.

And what about those who ask, "Shall we allow spousal infidelity pass in silence?" The answer to them is that the purpose of our campaign is not to argue criminal justice aspects of infidelity. The focus here is on punishment— the punishment itself—not its relationship to the crime. Whether we consider infidelity a crime, a torturous punishment is illegal and unacceptable. Further legal arguments are beyond the scope of our concerns at the moment.

One of the strangest arguments is that so long as there are people who are willing to throw the stones, and so long as infidelity is unacceptable in our society, nothing will change. Laws do not reflect the wishes of a few hundred people who throw stones at others. Laws must protect the safety of individuals. Laws must be in step with civilized norms of our times. Laws must lead societies away from violence and criminality.

If women like Mahboubeh or Makrameh [current pending stoning cases] had had the right to separate from spouses with whom life under the same roof had become unbearable, had they had some legal refuge in their predicaments, there would not have been infidelity, nor spouse killing. There would not have been any stonings.

Another incredible aspect of these legal proceedings is the inconsistency and inequity of judgments. A woman who was pimped by her husband receives the same sentence as the woman who followed her own heart's desire. A woman who was in another town at the time of her husband's murder, and who never confessed to an inappropriate relationship, is given the same sentence as the woman who was found living with her husband's killer in another town.

Human rights protect every individual. When a woman from the lowest rungs of society enjoys the same legal protections as everyone else, then we can say we have are moving towards equal rights.

Translated by Manesh

-------

This story first appeared July 16 in Rooz Online, and was also run on Meydaan.org

http://www.roozonline.com

http://www.meydaan.org/showarticle.aspx?arid=299&cid=46

See also:

RAPE AND REFORM IN PAKISTAN
Real Change on Anti-Woman "Hudood" Laws?
by Abira Ashfaq, Peacework
WW4 REPORT #132, April 2007
http://www.ww4report.com/node/3494

From our weblog:

Iran: execution by stoning for adultery
WW4 REPORT, July 12, 2007
http://ww4report.com/node/4209

Iran: women's rights activist gets prison and lashes
WW4 REPORT, July 7, 2007
http://ww4report.com/node/4188

Iran: women activists attacked
WW4 REPORT, March 6, 2007
http://ww4report.com/node/3291

—————————-

Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Aug. 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution