The 3rd of November has come and gone. To the relief of thousands, perhaps even millions, around the world, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is still alive. But the Iranian judiciary has only postponed her execution, not revoked it, and may yet proceed with her murder within the next few days.
The practice of stoning criminals to death lays bare the misogyny and brutality at the heart of Iran’s theocratic, patriarchic, atavistic culture. A disproportionate number of those stoned to death in Iran, often for the crime of adultery, are women. And laying aside the actual barbarity of the punishment itself, even for those who are guilty, there is good reason to believe that many of the women were falsely accused. The male chauvinism and sexist customs pervasive in Iranian society render women second-class citizens who are easily bullied, manipulated and abused, with little recourse to justice and legal protection. In one tragic case, a man’s desire for a new, younger wife - without the financial burden of supporting two wives or repaying his wife's dowry in the event of a divorce - motivated him to falsely accuse his wife of adultery. She was summarily found guilty and stoned to death.
Sakineh Ashtiani may have become the international face of Iran’s deplorable human rights violations, but she is only the most famous victim of her culture and government. Many more women and men have suffered through an archaic judicial system that uses torture to extract so-called confessions, denies the accused basic legal rights of representation, a fair hearing and a transparent process, implements harsh corporal punishment such as lashings, and takes the supposedly infallible proclamations of divinely inspired prophets as incontrovertible law. Furthermore, this is a judicial system that is sustained by a culture murderously hostile to homosexuals, prostitutes, apostates and political dissenters.
Yet for all these shameful details, many of which have been no secret for years, Iran had the gall to bid for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council earlier this year! The Iranian government eventually withdrew its bid, though perhaps it would be too much to hope that it did so out of a self-conscious recognition of the abominable human rights abuses it has committed against its own people.
Sakineh Ashtiani is still in prison, along with other women and men who await death by stoning or hanging. Please sign this petition and write to your local Iranian embassy to let them know that you deplore the cruel laws that systematically abuse women and other minority groups in Iran. Iranian officials like Ramin Mehmanparast may be irritated by the “Western feminists who are impudently demanding [Ashtiani’s] release and using this ordinary case as a pressure lever against our nation”, but as a country that seeks global standing and regional power, Iran will have to get used to impudent Westerners and other global citizens holding it to intense scrutiny. And putting on the pressure should it be called for.