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Iran's barbaric side

Editorial

The execution of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is on hold. But until Iran ends the practice of stoning and insists on equal justice for women, it will not be rid of international censure.

August 21, 2010

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani may not have long to live. International outrage over Iran's plan to stone to death the 43-year-old mother of two appears to have dissuaded it from going forward with that particular barbarity. But Ashtiani is not free. Her case is now under review by Iran's Supreme Court, and a final verdict could come as soon as next week. A state-run television news program, however, announced that she would not be executed during the month of Ramadan, which ends Sept. 9, and that instead of being stoned, she is to hang.

Exactly why is Ashtiani to die? At first, the judiciary announced that she would be executed for committing adultery. Then, caught off-guard by the international response, the government put her on television and implied that she was also involved in her husband's killing. But if Iran hoped the broadcast of Ashtiani giving a "confession" would sway world opinion, it was mistaken. Rather, the blurry telecast, in which her face was obscured and her words dubbed from her native Azeri into Persian, only emphasized her powerlessness. It reminded the world that Ashtiani is the victim of a regime that oppresses women, violates international accords regarding the treatment of prisoners and is cavalier in its disregard of human rights.

In 2006, Ashtiani was accused of involvement in her husband's slaying. She was acquitted on that charge but sentenced to 10 years in prison because the killing "disturbed the public order." A separate court then charged her with adultery. But on what grounds was she convicted? Ashtiani maintains that she was coerced into confessing. In addition, Iran's penal code permits judges to determine guilt based on their own "knowledge" if there is an absence of evidence. Three of the five judges deciding her case condemned her to death on that basis. Meanwhile, the man convicted of killing her husband is free after paying "blood money" to the dead man's family.

Even if Ashtiani is allowed to live — or sent into exile in Brazil, which has said it would welcome her as a gesture of friendship with Iran — that will only give Iran a temporary reprieve. Until it ends the practice of stoning and insists on equal justice for women and men, international censure will surely reoccur. In that, Iran has inadvertently achieved something worthy: By persecuting Ashtiani, it has exposed its own barbarism, indicted its own judicial system and isolated itself from all civilized nations.

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