Why Is Iran Still Stoning Women for “Adultery?”

As of this writing, Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani, age 43 and mother of two children, was slated to be buried up to her chest so Iranian men could throw medium sized rocks at her as a punishment for alleged adultery, a ritual act called stoning. After international pressure, the Iranian government has decided not to stone her to death. They have, however, said that she still may be executed by hanging.

Sakineh’s story is unique and then again common. Sakineh has been in prison since May 2006, when she was convicted of adultery. She was sentenced to a punishment of 99 lashes, which has already been carried out. She was forced to confess to adultery after receiving the 99 lashes, which she received in front of her children. She later retracted that confession. Later that year she was accused of murdering her husband. Those charges were dropped, but an inquiry into the adultery charge was reopened. Two of the five judges found absolutely no evidence of adultery but the other three judges used a legal loophole called “judicial knowledge,” which permits judges to make decisions based on their personal feelings, regardless of actual evidence. Sakineh also may have suffered from a language barrier, since she speaks Turkish, not Farsi.

According to Amnesty International, the majority of individuals put to death by stoning are women. Under Sharia law in Iran, a woman’s death by stoning involves being buried up to the neck and having stones hurled at her head. The law even specifies the size of the stones: not so big that the victim dies quickly, but not so small that death takes an inordinately long time. For Adultery to be proven, Iranian law dictates that two men or four women must witness that act of adultery. Moreover, if one is able to free themselves during the stoning, that person may go free; however, while a woman is buried up to her chest, a man is only buried up to his waist, obviously making it easier for a man to avoid death after committing adultery.

Human rights activists have been pushing the Islamic government to abolish stoning, arguing that women are not treated equally before the law in Iran and are especially vulnerable in the judicial system. Activists also say that in the past when pressure is put on the Iranian government to choose not to stone women to death, they have commuted the death sentence.  Sakineh’s son and daughter, despite having written to the court pleading for their mother’s life, up until July 9 had received little if any hope that their mother’s life will be saved. On July 9, the Iranian government said they would not stone her to death, though they still might execute her by hanging. In response, we ask that everyone raise your voice. Sign the petition. Post on Facebook and Twitter. Call our elected leaders. We can not tolerate inequality and we can not tolerate the unjust execution of women.

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