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DEATH PENALTY-IRAN: U.N. Slams Scheduled Public Stoning

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Jun 20 2007 (IPS) - The United Nations Wednesday lashed out at the scheduled public stoning of a man and woman charged with adultery in Iran.

Image from a German anti-stoning campaign. Credit: Jung von Matt

Image from a German anti-stoning campaign. Credit: Jung von Matt

The stoning, which was to have taken place Thursday in a public square in a town in the north central province of Ghazvin, has been postponed, perhaps due to a storm of protests worldwide, including a global campaign online.

"International law clearly prohibits stoning as a cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment," U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq told IPS.

This prohibition, he pointed out, is contained in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by the Islamic Republic of Iran.

"Under international law, the death penalty can only be imposed for the most serious crimes, widely understood as limited to crime taking life alone," Haq said.

Bearing a child out of wedlock does not, by any view, satisfy those strict standards, he added.

"As a matter of policy," he said, "the United Nations encourages the worldwide trend towards the abolition of the death penalty."

According to the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Ghazvin Municipal Security Council in Iran publicly announced that Mokarrameh Ebrahimi, a 43-year-old woman, and the father of her 11-year-old child were to be executed by public stoning.

The two were sentenced to death by a criminal court about 11 years ago. The charge was bearing a child out of wedlock.

"The Iranian government is about to kill a mother and father in the most brutal manner," said Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East division of Human Rights Watch.

The judiciary must take immediate action to save the lives of this couple and end barbaric punishments, such as death by stoning, he noted.

Human Rights Watch has said it opposes the death penalty in all circumstances "because of its inherent cruelty."

Last year, Amnesty International issued an urgent appeal to the government of Iran to overturn the death penalty on nine women facing public stoning for adultery.

"The sentence of execution by stoning for adultery breaches Iran&#39s 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 International said.

In a statement released Wednesday, HRW said that in December 2002, Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi Shahrudi, the head of Iran&#39s judiciary, ordered a ban on stoning.

"Yet this form of punishment continues, and it is disproportionately applied to women," HRW added.

As a follow-up to the ban, Iranian women&#39s rights activists and human rights organisations have launched a "Stop Stoning Forever Campaign".

"These impending executions show that the government isn&#39t enforcing its ban on stoning, nor is it acting in accordance with its international obligations," HRW&#39s Stork said.

He pointed out that Iran&#39s judiciary can no longer credibly deny that stoning takes place in the country.

"The authorities should act without delay to ban this shameful practice once and for all," he said.

A petition that has been circulating online, and which has been sent to legislators in the Iranian parliament, says the very act of punishing people by stoning them to death in today&#39s world is such "an unacceptable and inhuman act of brutality that even the members of the government are ashamed of admitting to doing it, and have publicly denied that this merciless practice takes place in Iran."

Despite the government&#39s denial, the petition said, this penalty is a sanctioned part of the Islamic Penal Code of Iran and it is being carried out without any legal obstacles.

The petition, initiated as part of the "Stop Stoning Forever Campaign", also says that in May 2006, in the city of Mashhad, a woman, Mahboubeh M., and a man, Abbas H., were both stoned to death.

Prior to carrying out the stoning, prior to their death, these two people were treated as if they were dead.

"In accordance with the Islamic tradition, their bodies were washed as if they were lifeless corpses, and wrapped in the kafan or white shroud. Then their wrapped bodies were buried in the ground, Mahboubeh&#39s body was buried up to her shoulders, and Abbas was buried up to his waist."

The crowd, who had gathered to stone the two to death slowly as specified by law, then targeted them with their stones. All this took place without any mention of it in the public media of the country, the petition continued.

Currently, at least 11 people, nine women and two men have been condemned to be stoned to death.

"Their situation is grave. It is also possible that there are other people who have been condemned to death by stoning and we are not aware of it," the petition said.

Human Rights Watch also condemned the use of the death penalty against children Wednesday, noting that Iran is known to have executed at least 17 juvenile offenders since the beginning of 2004 – eight times more than any other country in the world.

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