Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani

So in a blog month dedicated to various angles of “freedom” I wanted to just mention the story of Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani.  Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtianiis a 42-year old Iranian woman and mother of two, who, convicted of adultery by a five man judge panel, was given 99 lashes and then also sentenced to death by stoning.  Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani reminds us of how “un-free” millions of women are in many countries . Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani’s story left me unable to know where to even begin a response or reaction.

First, there is the description of stoning from Iran’s Penal Code, as cited by Amnesty International: 

The Penal Code specifies the manner of execution and types of stones that should be used. Article 102 states that men will be buried up to their waists and women up to their breasts for the purpose of execution by stoning.

Article 104 states, with reference to the penalty for adultery, that the stones used 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”. This makes it clear that the purpose of stoning is to inflict pain in a process leading to slow death.”

Watch a CNN report on this case.

I don’t know what to say about that. There is obviously an argument to be made that style of execution is irrelevant given that the end result of any technique is the same . It’s not my intent to get into the death penalty here.  It’s simply to react to this specific method of killing someone which seems very 14th century and also somewhat like torture – and certainly very brutally “hands-on.”  

In a letter by Ashtiani’s kids, they say of stoning “To tell the truth, the term “stoning” is so horrific that we try never to use it. We instead say our mother is in danger, she might be killed, and she deserves everyone’s help.”

But of course the bigger issue is why the woman is being killed – she was convicted of adultery. There are countries in the world, regimes running countries in the world, where individuals police other indivduals most personal acts to make sure they conform with a certain extremist view of a religious code. And if someone falls short of the code- he or she is subjected to public judgement, a beating,and, in this case – by law – execution. The case of Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani underscores that in many places, there is no freedom of religion – there is a state-run religion, or a state which lets religious leaders of one type or another create the laws and make life-or-death judgements. The case of Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani underscores that in many places personal business is not personal and freedom to come and go as you please, whether morally or immorally, is non-existent.

Freedom is limited if the legal system is unfair. A country  according to a CNN interview with human rights campaigners on the case, Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani did not get a fair trial. The judges used a loophole to punish her twice – once with the lashes and, without real explanation,  once with the death sentence. There was  a charge she tried to kill her husband, but she was found innocent of that. Did some judge think she still was guilty and decide to exercise his own judgement? Additionally, the lawyer alledges she didn’t speak the language of her accusers. He says the accustations is supposed to be accompanies with 4-5 witnesses, and there were none in here case- violating the standard of the legal system. And he, in fact, claims she is innocent to begin with. It is mentioned in the article that often this kind of treatment befalls women whose husbands want to get rid of them.

And that brings me to the other piece of this which is the violent sexism involved. Where is the man who was involved in the alleged adultery? He’s not facing the death pentalty.  (Not that some men don’t.)  According to Iranian law, a woman’s testimony is worth half of a man’s. Human rights groups note that women are disproportinately penalized for adultery.  This is an issue of women not being as free as men in many countries.

(Ms. Ashtiani)

I would not say that there is a situation here in the US which mirrors the extreme-ness of this one. However, as we consider the injustice here, isn’t it also a good place to stop and think of how we run our own country?

How do we stand up in terms of fair trials, for example. Do people in the US always recieve a fair trial-  and if they don’t, what factors cause the problem: race, gender, money? Do we get upset about it? Are people of one belief or moral standard judged legally by people of a different belief system or moral standard? Where is the line between a collective belief in “right and wrong” being a way to create law, and one group’s religious or moral code simply intefering with another’s personal actions and pursuit of life, liberty and happiness?

And where does “cultural habit to be respected” cross over to “human rights violation to be fought against.” 

And are people letting this incident cause them to hate all Islam? Is the media doing anything like a decent job in covering this story? And what of the hundreds of other stories like it – women – and men – facing this kind of system. And what are western democracies doing?  Norway has called the Iranian ambassador to task. The State Department of the US has criticized the sentence. Is there more to be done?

And what is the average person doing? What responsibility do people with more freedom have for the well-being of people with less? How do we contribute a drop into the bucket of this particular freedom issue? Social media? Petition signing? Contacting elected officials and pundits? Some experts saying exerting outside pressure is indeed a helpful way to stop these types of executions. As always, drop as you see fit.

In any case, a sad story on a hot day.  We’ll see what happens.

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