Crime & Justice, Gender, Headlines, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa

DEATH PENALTY: Seven Women Face Stoning in Iran

Alison Langley*

BERLIN, Sep 29 2006 (IPS) - Amnesty International has issued an urgent appeal calling on its members to write letters to the Republic of Iran asking them not to stone seven women.

Nearly all of the women have been sentenced to die by stoning for adultery. Officially Iran had placed a moratorium on the cruel and painful practise in 2002, but Amnesty claims sentencing continues. The group has received credible reports that two people were stoned to death in May.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has ruled that treating adultery and fornication as criminal offences does not comply with international human rights standards.

“The sentence of execution by stoning for adultery breaches Iran’s commitment under article 6(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that death sentences will be imposed ‘only for the most serious crimes’,” Amnesty wrote in its appeal.

Under Shari’a law, a prisoner is buried up to her breast, her hands restrained. Rules also specify the size of the stones which can be thrown so that death is painful and not imminent. Both men and women can be sentenced to die by stoning. In practise, however, an overwhelming number of women receive that penalty.

“It’s high time this brutal practise ends. Not only are people deprived of their right to life by the state but they are tortured in the process,” Nicole Choueiry, Amnesty’s Middle East press officer, told IPS.

“Iran should review its legislation as a matter of urgency to bring it into line with international human rights standards,” she added.

According to an independent legal analysis of the country’s penal code, Iranian judges are required to issue these mandatory sentences. Rarely, IPS sources inside Iran said, are these sentences carried out.

One lawyer, who asked not to be named, told IPS that the head of the judiciary, Ayatollah Shahroudi, frequently has been able to postpone executions. He does not, however, have the authority to commute death sentences to life imprisonment.

In addition to the seven women mentioned in the latest report, Amnesty earlier issued reports of two other Iranians also allegedly at risk of being stoned.

According to Amnesty, Parisa A. received her execution sentence while working as a prostitute in the city of Shiraz. She claims she had been forced into prostitution by her husband due to her family’s poverty. Her sentence was upheld by a branch of the Supreme Court in November 2005. Her case is under review by the high court.

Iran E., an Ahwazi Arab from the Bakhtiari clan, was sentenced to be stoned for adultery. Her verdict was upheld by the Supreme Court in April.

Khayrieh V., another Ahwazi Arab, was reportedly subjected to domestic violence by her husband when she allegedly began an affair with one of his relatives, who then murdered her husband, the Amnesty report said. She has denied any involvement in the murder but has admitted to adultery.

The Supreme Court has upheld her sentence and the case now apparently has been sent to the Head of the Judiciary for permission to be implemented. Amnesty quoted her as saying, “I am ready to be hanged, but they should not stone me. They could strangle you and you would die, but it is very difficult to have stones hitting you in the head.”

Shamameh Ghorbani (also known as Malek), was sentenced to die by stoning for adultery in June after relatives killed a man they found in her home. Her case is being re-examined.

Kobra Najjar, 44, is at imminent risk of execution, Amnesty said. She claims to have been forced into prostitution by her husband, a heroin addict who was violent towards her.

“In 1995, after a severe beating by her husband, she told one of her regular customers that she wanted to kill her husband. The customer allegedly murdered her husband after Kobra Najjar took him to an arranged meeting place. The customer was sentenced to death, but he was pardoned by the victim’s family, to whom he paid blood money,” Amnesty added.

Soghra Mola’i was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment for being an accomplice to the January 2004 murder of her husband Abdollah and to execution by stoning for adultery. She claims her lover killed her husband. Her boyfriend has been sentenced to hang for the homicide, after receiving 100 lashes for “illicit relations.”

In May 2005, a Tehran court sentenced Fatemeh, whose surname is unknown, to pay retribution for being an accomplice to murder, and to be stoned for having an “illicit relationship” with a man named Mahmoud. Her husband has been sentenced to 16 years’ imprisonment as an accomplice to the murder. Her case is under review with the Supreme Court.

In addition to these women, Amnesty officials said the human rights group was concerned about the fates of Ashraf Kalhori and Hajieh Esmailvand, also convicted of adultery and sentenced to be stoned.

* Kimia Sanati in Tehran contributed to this report.

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