As protests against the stoning of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani arose amongst the public and western officials, the IRI embassy in London announced that the verdict would not be stoned to death. On the contrary, the Secretary of Judiciary Commission of Human Rights declared that death by stoning does exist in the law of the country and that it would be implemented.
Now, it is feared that the Islamic Republic of Iran may decide to suddenly execute all those sentenced to stoning, either by stoning or hanging, in an attempt to quiet the rising western opposition as quickly as possible.
It is especially important to note that the Iranian embassy in London did not mention that Sakineh would be released, just that she would not be stoned to death, leaving open the possibility of her being hanged instead.
Clandestine Operation of Judiciary
Since the practice of stoning is not compatible with the culture of the Iranian people and is strongly opposed by the public, the Judiciary executes stoning sentences in secrecy, often in closed cemeteries or remote locations. The bodies of the stoned victims, in some cases, have not even been returned to the families.
Even the term “stoning” has been banned in the Iranian press.
The government policy on stoning has been to implement the practice in secrecy to promote very little uproar, yet they have resorted to hanging the victims when facing public outcry and protests.
Judiciary Insisting on Death Sentence for Sexual Behavior
Following the announcement by the IRI Embassy in London on Thursday, July 8, 2010, that Sakineh would not be stoned, Mohammad-Javad Larijani, Secretary of the Judiciary Commission of Human Rights, arranged a private press conference on Friday, July 9, 2010, with IRNA to demonstrate that the Islamic Republic would not relent under the pressure of public opinion or European officials.
Mr. Larijani started by saying, “First, punishment by stoning is in our Constitution, but it is issued in limited number of cases by judges in courts.”
Then, he spoke of “alternative punishment”, implying hanging as an alternative to stoning.
Mr. Larijani then concluded that “The attacks launched by the west in this regard have no effect on the decision of our judges.
Implementation of holy Sharia laws of Islam such as stoning sentences, hijab and inheritance have always been faced by shameless enmity [by the West], and basically anything close to religious orders faces their opposition.”
Then, on July 11, Malek Ajdar-Sharifi, the Head of Judiciary in Eastern Azerbaijan province, where Sakineh’s case is being processed, told IRNA, the state news agency that “Although the sentence is final and must be implemented, it has been stayed for humanitarian reasons and by the order of the Head of Judicairy, and will therefore not be implemented for the time being.”
Ajdar-Sharifi stated, “The Judiciary is determined to follow the law and rules and anytime that the honorable Head of Judiciary sees appropriate, her sentence will be carried out regardless of the western media hype.”
Sentenced to Death by Stoning
Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is only one of the thirteen known people who are sentenced to death by stoning. There may be more cases that we are unaware of in small towns where news reporters and human rights defenders have little activity, and these victims die in silence. The information about those currently charged with “adultery” – i.e., being married and having a sexual relationship with somebody other than their spouse – and currently kept in prison is listed below.
• Kobra Babayi – mother of a 13-year-old girl. Lawyer: Mohammad Mostafavi Note: Her husband, Mohammad Rahim was executed in 2009 for adultery.
• Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani – 43 year old, mother of two children, Farideh 19 years old and Sajjad 22 years old. Lawyer: Mohammad Mostafavi Note: once sentenced to 99 lashes which have been implemented. Tried again for the same offense and sentenced to stoning. Her children have written a letter to the public asking for their help in saving their mother.
Note: Imprisoned and tried at age 15 following complaints by her husband, and sentenced to stoning. • Maryam Ghorbanzadeh, woman, 25 years old. Attorney: Javid Kian
• Sarymeh Ebadi (or Sarymeh Sajjadi) – woman, 31 years old, mother of two children. Lawyer: Unknown
• BouAli Janfeshani – man, 33 years old, father of a son. Lawyer: Unknown Note: These two individuals were charged with adultery and sentenced to death by stoning in January 2009. The verdicts have been approved by the Branch 12 of Court of Appeals in Western Azarbaijan Province. They are both being kept in the Central Prison of Urumiyeh.
• Iran Eskandari – woman, 31 years old, mother of a 13-year-old son. Lawyer: Unknown Note: She is from a Bakhtiari tribe and had a forced marriage to her cousin. Her husband was not home for months at a time and she entered into a relationship with a neighboring boy via mail and phone chats. One day her husband jumped over the wall into the yard, caught them talking, and beat her severely after the boy ran away. The boy came back to help her and the husband was killed with a knife. She was first sentenced in March 2005 in Khuzestan by the lower court to five years imprisonment for being an accomplice to murder and to death by stoning for adultery. The Supreme Court approved the ruling in April 2006. Considering the tribal culture in the region, Iran will likely be killed by her male relatives even if she escapes execution by the government.
• Kheyriyeh Valania – woman, 42 years old, mother of several children. Lawyer: Unknown Note: She was convicted because she confessed to adultery four times. She has been a victim of domestic violence and had an affair with the man who killed her husband. She denies any involvement in the murder of her husband, but has been convicted as an accomplice. The third Branch of the General Court in Behbahan sentenced Kheyriyeh to death by stoning in April 2002 for adultery. Kheyriyeh says: “I don’t mind being executed, but don’t want to be stoned! They suffocate you and you die, but it is very hard to be hit by stones in the head again and again!” She would have no refuge if released, and is sure that she would be killed by her brothers.
• Ashraf Kalhori – woman, 41 years old. Lawyer: Unknown Note: The execution of her stoning sentence has been stayed by a direct order by Shahrioudi who was the head of the judiciary at the time. She is still kept in Evin prison. In the past, her lawyer was Shadi Sadr who now resides outside the country.
• M. Kh. – woman, Age: Unknown, Lawyer: Unknown • Hasheminasab – woman, Age: Unknown. Lawyer: Unknown Note: These two women are kept in Vakil-Abad prison in Mashhad.
• Mohammad-Ali Navid-Khamamy – man, age: unknown, Father’s name: Safar, Lawyer: Unknown Note: He was sentenced to death by stoning In June 2008.
• Seyyed-Naqi Ahmadi – man, Age: Unknown. Lawyer: Ebrahim MohammadiNote: In June 2008, three of the five judges of the Criminal Court of Mazandaran province sentenced Seyyed-Naqi Ahmadi to death by stoning. The accused was charged with adultery with a woman named Puran. Puran was acquitted of the adultery charge because her husband was not accessible at the time of the affair. The sentences were later approved by the Branch 33 of the Supreme Court.
“Judge’s Knowledge”: Sufficient Proof for Convictions
In adultery cases, there are no witnesses (at least four witnesses must testify) or conclusive evidence to prove that the act of adultery has taken place. The sole reason for the conviction is often the “judge’s knowledge” or subjective opinion of the judge, which is random and arbitrary. It is as though the judge is equipped to recognize the adulterous individuals. Interestingly, no judge in Iran can use his “knowledge” to convict a person of fraud and imprison that person, but can use his knowledge to convict one with adultery and sentence him/her to death by stoning. In some cases, the accused has been threatened and tortured to confess to adultery four times in the absence of four witnesses.
Access to Legal Counsel?
Considering that most people sentenced to death by stoning come from disadvantaged sections of society, the majority of them do not have access to a lawyer from the beginning. Therefore, they confess to the charges under pressure without being aware of the gravity of the possible consequence. The law requires that the defendant be represented by a lawyer in criminal court. Thus, they are assigned a public defender which in most cases is, unfortunately, inexperienced and/or does not spend the needed amount of time and energy on the case to save the defendant’s life.
Iran’s Judiciary system considers no right for the citizens to monitor its performance. Hence, the number and names of those whose stoning sentences have been approved by the Supreme Court and have been implemented remains unknown. Below is the list of those whom we know have been stoned to death since 2006.
• Mahboubeh Mohammadi, (woman) She is reported to have confessed to adultery by the threat of torture, stoned to death in May 2006, along with Abbas Hajizadeh.
• Abbas Hajizadeh, (man) He was stoned to death in May 2006.
• Three men were stoned in January 2008 in the Behesh-Reza cemetery in Mashhad. One of them, an Afghan citizen named Mahmoud, was able to escape the pit and was severely injured. The other two, one named Hooshang Khdadeh and another unknown, were stoned to death.
• Jafar Kiani, (man) The Head of Judiciary ordered a stay of his execution after the Stop Stoning Forever campaign drew global attention to the case, but the local judge ignored the order and implemented the sentence in Takistan, near Qazvin, in July 2007.
• Vali Azad, (man) a resident of Pars-Abad, Moqan, was stoned secretly in Rasht, on March 5, 2009. His body was never delivered to his family. Female judge Hojatoleslam Kashani, the judge residing at the branch 11 of the Criminal Court of Guilan Province, and Judge Javidnia, the Revolutionary Court Prosecutor issued and carried out the sentence. A woman, who was his partner in the act, was pardoned. The implementation of stoning was officially confirmed by the judiciary spokesman, Alireza Jamshidi, at the time.
Hanging instead of Stoning
The “Stop Stoning Forever” campaign started in 2005 and revealed that stoning cases were still being issued and implemented despite the IRI claim of an enforced moratorium on stoning.
Following the relative success of the campaign and the severe and extensive international outcry, Mr. Shahroudi, the Head of the Judiciary at the time, ordered the use of alternative punishments, i.e., alternative corporal punishments in the place of stoning.
It should be noted that the exact number of people executed by hanging instead of stoning is also not clear and what follows only indicates the cases we are currently aware of.
• Abdullah Farivar – (man) 53 years old, Sari Prison – He was a music teacher and was executed in February 2008.
• Afsaneh Rahmani – (woman) Adel-Abad Prison, Shiraz – was executed in 2009.
• Rahim Mohammadi – (man) Kobra Babai’s husband, was executed in October 2009.
• According to unconfirmed reports, a woman was hanged in a closed room in Evin prison, Tehran, in 2008.
Saved from Stoning
The “Stop Stoning Forever” campaign was launched by Asieh Amini, Shadi Sadr, and myself, along with the help of volunteer lawyers and other human rights defenders, in 2006. Through raising public awareness in Iran and the world about stoning cases, and with the hard work of volunteer lawyers in defense of the convicted, the campaign succeeded in changing some stoning sentence to “alternative” punishments, e.g., lashing, and in some cases obtaining a pardon by the head of judiciary.
Consequently, the lives of some of those sentenced to stoning were saved, including the following:
• Parisa Akbari (wife of Najaf Akbari), Adel Abad Prison, Shiraz – released after 99 lashes. • Najaf Akbari (husband of Parisa Akbari), Shiraz prison – was acquitted and released.
• Soghra Mowlayi, Varamin prison, Varamin –(woman) was acquitted of charges of adultery.
• Kobra Najjar, Rajayi-Shahr prison in Karaj – (woman) was acquitted and released after thirteen years.
• Mokarrameh Ebrahimi (wife of Jafar kiani who was stoned to death), Chubindar prison, Qazvin – pardoned and released.
• Hajieh Esmailvand, Jolfa prison, Eastern Azerbaijan Province – acquitted and released
• Shamameh (Malek) Ghorbani, (woman) the prison Urmia, Western Azerbaijan Province- acquitted and released.
• Zohreh Kabiri (Sister of Azar Kabiri), Rajayi-Shahr prison in Karaj, released after 99 lashes.
• Azar Kabiri (sister of Zohreh Kabiri), Rajayi-Shahr prison in Karaj, released after 99 lashes.
• Azam Khanjari
• Zahra Rezayi, Rajayi-Shahr prison in Karaj, (woman) acquitted and released.
• Leila Qomi, Evin prison, Tehran – (woman) stoning sentence was changed to imprisonment.
• Fatima Amani- Evin Prison, Tehran – (woman) retried and sentenced to three years imprisonment.
Impact on Culture
In Iran, stoning had been unprecedented in the past few decades prior to the Islamic regime unlike countries like Afghanistan and Somalia where stoning is sometimes practiced by the people without any legal verdict.
Since punishment by stoning for the so called crimes of sexual misconduct has been sanctioned by the Islamic Penal Code and implemented by the government, it has, unfortunately, been adopted by some uneducated and fanatic people from underprivileged communities, as well, as a punishment for inappropriate sexual behavior. The case of a 14-year-old girl stoned by her father in Zahedan, Sistan and Balouchestan province in 2008, is a sad example of this spread of violent behavior.
Etemaad newspaper, on Sunday, February 17, 2008, reported that “Father’s honor: cause of stoning his 14-year-old daughter.” According to the report, a young woman went to the law enforcement officers in Zahedan while crying terribly and informed them that her daughter had been murdered. She said, “My husband, Sharif, is a very suspicious and grumpy man and mistreated my daughter and me and my daughter, Somayyeh, was harassed by him the most until he found an excuse to take her out of the house and took her to an unknown place and neither of them have returned home since.”
Mohammad-Sharif, the father, eventually confessed to the crime and said, “I recently noticed my 14 year old daughter was behaving suspiciously. At first, I tried to calmly deal with the situation and do some investigation to find out why Somayyeh was acting this way and leaving home for no reason and had no explanation when she returned late at night. Finally, I could not control myself and scolded her, but it was no use because my child accused me of skepticism and told me she had done no wrong. After a while, I became certain that she was involved with a man. I saw my honor gone, and tolerating the situation and choosing silence would have been deadly for me. I decided to kill Somayyeh and save myself from this shame. Meanwhile, I had to select a method for killing her to truly punish her for what she had done. Finally, I decided to stone her. But since I could not do it alone, I asked one of my friends named Ghafour to help me out and once he learned of my problem, he agreed to help me with killing Somayyeh who was a stain of shame in the family. Ghafour called some other people, and we set a date and place for our plan. At the day of the incident, I forced my daughter to leave home with me and pulled her towards the Hlour heights. She was frightened the whole way and although she knew there was no happy ending awaiting her, she did not know what punishment I had considered for her. After we reached the place, I threw her on the ground and we began stoning her. Somayyeh was screaming constantly and was trying to save her life by pleading and begging. But I had no other way to retain my lost honor and live honorably but to kill her.”
Cultural Sensitivity and Civil Protest
While the report by the Etemaad newspaper used the term “shocking” to describe Sharif’s confession, it seems that the implementation of stoning by the Islamic regime is not as shocking to the society. Perhaps this is because the facts about stoning sentences are denied and censored.
But does the government’s censorship and denial explain the society’s lack of strong reaction?
When the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani came into light, it was shocking in the west and the Islamic Republic authorities were flooded by the waves of protests and objections from all western countries, but the two leaders of the Green Movement, Mousavi and Karroubi, who are known as the beacons of collective consciousness for progressive segments of society, were completely silent in this case.
There is no civil protest by the people, either. It may be because the practice of stoning by the Islamic regime has been partially accepted and justified by the brutal and violent nature of the reactionary regime, while in the West stoning is not tolerated and cannot be justified, not even when it is done by Taliban.
We, the Iranian people, must ask ourselves: Why is it that we do not demonstrate sensitivity towards stoning? Is our awareness of the violent system of punishment by the Islamic regime sufficient to silence us?
Resources used in preparing this report include reports by Amnesty International, International Federation of Human Rights, Human Rights Activists News Agency in Iran, HamMihan, Etamaad, IRNA, The Guardian, Mohammad Mostafaii’s weblog, Saghi Laghaii (Women’s Field) – and conversations with Mina Ahadi and human rights defenders in Iran. Considering that access to accurate and updated news about all cases of stoning is very difficult for one person living outside of the country to compile, I invite you all, and especially lawyers, journalists and human rights activist to cooperate so we can put together a complete list of all the individuals who are in danger of stoning and their family status, case status and the level of their access to counsel.