Iranian prisoner Sakineh Ashtiani, who falls in and out of the spotlight, is in the news again. Ashtiani is a woman from Tabriz, in Iranian Azerbaijan. Since 2006 the Iranian mullocracy has been planning to kill her.
Ashtiani’s husband was murdered in 2005. Very little else about the case is clear. Ashtiani was found guilty of adultery, apparently with one or both of the men convicted of the killing. For this crime, Ashtiani was sentenced to death by stoning.
The barbarity of the sentence evoked an international outcry of revulsion. In one of those inexplicable bits of luck, Ashtiani has benefited from her sudden fame, while other Iranian women also subject to death by stoning languish in anonymity.
In response to the international pressure, Iran announced that Ashtiani was guilty of murder as well as adultery, and that she would be executed by hanging, not by stoning. Presumably Iran reckoned that being executed for murder would provoke less outrage than for adultery; and that as hanging remains available in many countries that retain capital punishment, the uproar would diminish. In an attempt to reinforce the credibility of the accusation, the authorities forced Ashtiani to confess on television—supposedly. Since the woman on camera spoke fluent Farsi, while Ashtiani speaks Azeri, the “confession” was quickly revealed to be a crude hoax.
The Guardian managed to conduct an interview with Ashtiani in which she explained what’s really happening: “They’re lying. They are embarrassed by the international attention on my case and they are desperately trying to distract attention and confuse the media so that they can kill me in secret. . . . I was found guilty of adultery and was acquitted of murder, but the man who actually killed my husband was identified and imprisoned but he is not sentenced to death [because Ashtiani’s sons pardoned him]. . . . The answer is quite simple, it’s because I’m a woman, it’s because they think they can do anything to women in this country. It’s because for them adultery is worse than murder–but not all kinds of adultery: an adulterous man might not even be imprisoned but an adulterous women is the end of the world for them. It’s because I’m in a country where its women do not have the right to divorce their husbands and are deprived of their basic rights.”
(No one denies that it is possible that Ashtiani is implicated in a crime. But the Iranian judicial process was so murky, politicized and unreliable that no one can be confident that Ashtiani had a fair trial for murder. And adultery is not a crime—certainly not a capital crime—in any civilized country.)
Thus, since at least August 2010 the hangman has stood outside Ashtiani’s prison door. But Iran’s rulers face a dilemma. They want to publicize Ashtiani execution to intimidate and terrorize their own population, especially women and minorities. On the other hand, they don’t want to arouse international condemnation, which reminds the world of the hideous character of the Iranian regime, its support for international terrorism, its pursuit of nuclear weapons, etc, etc.
Thus, Malek Ajdar Sharifi, the East Azerbaijan head of the judiciary, recently announced: “There is no rush . . . our Islamic experts are reviewing Ashtiani’s sentence to see whether we can carry out the execution of a person sentenced to stoning by hanging.”
There is nothing new here in the suggestion that stoning is out, but hanging remains possible. Sharifi is suggesting that the delay in carrying out the sentence is based on a legal technicality. But the truth is more likely to be that this is a trial balloon—the mullahs are waiting to see if the world still cares about Ashtiani. If protests fail to erupt as they have in the past, Ashtiani will probably be killed.
The White House phone number is 202-456-1111. Ask President Obama to condemn the death sentence against Sakineh Ashtiani, and the dubious judicial process that brought it about.