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Stoned in Iran

Samara Greenberg

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 43-year-old Iranian woman, faces death by stoning unless an international campaign launched by her two children forces Iranian authorities to alter the sentence. Ashtiani, who was convicted in May 2006 of conducting an “illicit relationship outside marriage,” already endured a sentence of 99 lashes. It is unclear if the lashings were carried out as a punishment for adultery, or to coerce Ashtiani into confessing to committing adultery, as there are conflicting reports on the issue.

Either way, her case was re-opened when a court accused her of murdering her husband. Although Ashtiani was acquitted of murder, the adultery charge was reviewed and a death penalty handed down on the basis of “judge’s knowledge” – a loophole in the Iranian court system that allows for subjective judicial rulings where no conclusive evidence is present.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani faces death by stoning.

According to Mina Ahadi, head of the International Committee Against Stoning and the Death Penalty, only international pressure on the regime in Tehran can save her life now. “Legally it’s all over,” Ahadi said Sunday. “It’s a done deal. Sakineh can be stoned at any minute.” “That is why we have decided to start a very broad, international public movement. Only that can help,” she explained.

Ashtiani will be buried up to her chest and struck with stones that should “not be large enough to kill the person by one or two strikes; nor should they be so small that they could not be defined as stones,” according to Article 104 of the Iranian Penal Code. The purpose of this method is to inflict pain in a process that leads to a slow death.

Ashtiani’s case highlights Iran’s appalling human rights record. That Ashtiani was acquitted of murdering her husband but still faces stoning because of Iran’s “judge’s knowledge” loophole is nothing short of absurd. Moreover, that the United Nations elected Iran to its Commission on the Status of Women in April of this year is even worse; handing a four-year seat on a commission  “dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women” to a state in which stoning is enshrined in law and lashings are required for women who are “immodest” should be inconceivable in the 21st century.

While Iran’s attempt at obtaining nuclear capabilities is the United States’ latest bone of contention with the theocratic state, Tehran’s gross human rights violations have long been a problem for the U.S. Unfortunately, it seems that the human rights issue has taken a back seat in light of the nuclear issue. The United States, however, has an obligation to not only speak up, but take punitive action against Iran’s human rights abuses. The Obama administration can do so by supporting the activists pressuring the regime to call off Ashtiani’s unjust sentence. In addition, the United States should pressure the UN to remove Tehran from its place on the Commission on the Status of Women. Failing to do so would not only be immoral, but it would also be yet another missed opportunity for the Obama administration to pressure the Iranian regime.