An Iranian woman convicted of adultery has been sentenced to death by stoning. If carried out the sentence would be the first known stoning to take place in the Islamic Republic in years.
Sakineh Mohamamadi e Ashtiani, a 43-year-old mother of two in the northwestern Iranian city of Tabriz, was accused of having extramarital relations with two men who ended up killing her husband.
Infidelity is illegal in Iran, and usually punished with lashes and prison time. While the Iranian penal code allows for the death sentence in infidelity cases, execution by stoning is rare.
The case, first leaked to Radio Farda by women’s rights activist Soheila Vahdati, began in 2005 when Ashtiani was arrested for having "illicit relationships." She was convicted by a local court a year later and sentenced to 99 lashes and an unknown amount of time in prison, where she has remained since.
Following the original case, however, Ashtiani and her boyfriends were accused of murdering her husband. Ashtiani was convicted and sentenced to death by stoning.
She has denied any wrongdoing but reportedly asked local authorities for a pardon, stating simply “If I have done any wrong, I repent." The request for clemency was denied.
Mina Ahadi, an advocate for the International Committee Against Stoning, said the family has no news as to the status of the case.
“I have been in contact with her children and her son went to Tehran today to speak with the authorities about his mothers case,” she told The Media Line. “But basically we are just waiting.”
Ashtiani’s two children, Fasride and Sajjad, 16 and 20 respectively, have been leading the campaign for her release.
Mohammad Mostafaie, a prominent Tehran-based human rights lawyer representing Ashtiani, told The Media Line he was unable to comment on the case, but has prevously claimed that his client’s execution is imminent.
“It wasn’t announced publicly so nobody knows much about the process through which the sentence or verdict is handed down,” Niusha Boghrati, an Iranian journalist who covers human rights issues told The Media Line. “Local women’s rights activists found out about the verdict and rumors started in the blogosphere that this woman is facing stoning. Then a famous human rights lawyer, Mohammad Mostafaie, went to Tabriz and confirmed that this woman has been sentenced to death by stoning.”
According to Article 83 of the Laws of Islamic Punishment in Iran, ratified in 1991, adultery is punishable by stoning. Iranian human rights advocates point out, however, that murder is punishable by hanging. They allege that Ashtiani’s adultery case was reopened during her murder trial, despite her having already been punished.
“What’s interesting about this case is that this woman had already been sentenced to lashes for adultery,” Boghrati said. “She appealed to a higher court. They did not decrease her sentence but on the contrary took it to the next level, which in the case of adultery is death by stoning.”
Hamid Tehrani, the Iran editor of Global Voices, which aggregates citizen journalism, said stoning is extremely rare.
“It’s not the usual way of punishing crimes but it’s up to the discretion of the judge,” he told The Media Line. “It’s important to note that it’s not just women who get stoned and it is very unpopular in Iran.”
Boghrati, the journalist, argued the new interest of Iranian media in the case did not bode well for Ashtiani.
“Stoning, or other intense abuses of human rights that happen in Iran, are not only about the Islamic Republic insisting on carrying out the sentence itself, it’s a way for the regime to defy civil rights activists and civil society,” he said. “In that, media attention of cases like this actually increases the chances that this woman will be executed because the government wants to prove to civil society groups that no matter how hard you try, and how much support you get from the UN or international human rights groups, we still have the capacity to curb you.”
Kourosh Ziabari, an Iranian journalist and political correspondent with
Foreign Policy Journal, agreed.
“The core idea behind punishment is the same internationally,” he told
The Media Line. “Countries that exercise such punishments are
principally interested in maintaining the social security of society.
The focus of media outlets on the issue just magnifies and amplifies the
exercise of such punishments in Iran.”
“Everything is not perfect here but Iran is very advanced in women’s
rights when compared to other Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia and
Egypt, neither of which receive regular condemnation from the
international community over human rights because they are allied with
the US,” Ziabari continued. “This form of punishment is not that common
in Iran, while many other Islamic countries regularly use stoning as a
form of punishment.”
Meanwhile in Rasht, another major city in northwestern Iran, women made
headlines after they successfully resisted an attempt by the local
Morality Police to arrest a woman.
The incident, which was captured on video, escalated after the police
began beating the woman’s mother, who attempted to stop the police from
arresting the woman. A crowd which had gathered around reacted strongly
to this and began booing the police and attempting to damage their
The cops gave up on trying to arrest the woman and drove away, their
back window broken, to the cheers of the crowd.