Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Woman faces execution by stoning

After a coerced confession that involved her receiving 99 lashes in front of her son.

A veteran Iranian human rights activist has warned that Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani, a mother of two, could be stoned to death at any moment under the terms of a death sentence handed down by Iranian authorities.

Only an international campaign designed to pressure the regime in Tehran can save her life, according to Mina Ahadi, head of the International Committee Against Stoning and the Death Penalty.

"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."

Ashtiani, 42, will be buried up to her chest, according to an Amnesty International report citing the Iranian penal code. The stones that will be hurled at her will be large enough to cause pain but not so large as to kill her immediately.

Ashtiani, who is from the northern city of Tabriz, was convicted of adultery in 2006.

She was forced to confess after being subjected to 99 lashes, human rights lawyer Mohammad Mostafaei said Thursday in a telephone interview from Tehran.

She later retracted that confession and has denied wrongdoing. Her conviction was based not on evidence but on the determination of three out of five judges, Mostafaei said. She has asked forgiveness from the court but the judges refused to grant clemency.

Iran's supreme court upheld the conviction in 2007.

Mostafaei believes a language barrier prevented his client from fully comprehending court proceedings. Ashtiani is of Azerbaijani descent and speaks Turkish, not Farsi.

The circumstances of Ashtiani's case make it not an exception but the rule in Iran, according to Amnesty International, which tracks death penalty cases around the world.

"The majority of those sentenced to death by stoning are women, who suffer disproportionately from such punishment," the human rights group said in a 2008 report.

On Wednesday, Amnesty made a new call to the Iranian government to immediately halt all executions and commute all death sentences. The group has recorded 126 executions in Iran from the start of this year to June 6.
The international community has expressed outrage over the case, and Ms. Ashtiani's case will be reviewed this weekend.

The Obama administration has expressed concerns about the execution. Norway has summoned the Iranian ambassador in Oslo to protest. Demonstrations have been held outside Iranian embassies in London and other capitals.

"Is the world so cruel that it can watch this catastrophe and do nothing about it?" Ms Ashtiani's son, Sajad, 22, and daughter, Farideh, 17, asked in an open letter. "We (appeal) to the people of the world, no matter who you are and where you live, to help prevent this nightmare from becoming reality."

Yesterday Iranian officials told Sajad that his mother's case would be reviewed on Sunday, which raised hopes of a reprieve.

Ms Ashtiani was arrested in 2005, convicted the following year of having an illicit relationship and given 99 lashes. Her son had to witness the flogging.

Her case was subsequently reopened on suspicion that she and her alleged partner murdered her husband. She was convicted of adultery on a majority decision and sentenced to death by stoning.

Her sentence was upheld by the Iranian Supreme Court in 2007 and she has twice appealed unsuccessfully for clemency.

Her lawyer, Mohammed Mostafaei, said the sentence was illegal and that her conviction was based only on the opinion of the judges, and that she could not follow the proceedings because she was of Azerbaijani descent and spoke Turkish and not Farsi.

The entire Iranian judicial process is weighted against women. Their testimony is worth only half that of men. Those sentenced to death by stoning are spared if they can drag themselves out of the earth, but while men are buried up to their waist, women are buried up to their chest.
Click here to contact your president and demand that he express more than "concerns" about this case.

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