This is just a very depressing story and I really don’t even know how to find a joke in it. Apparently that power belongs only to Monty Python.
In Iran, they of course have capital punishment. And there are still some pretty brutal practices used, even within the context of capital punishment. Unlike in Utah, the convict doesn’t get to choose to use an older means. Even in that case, the convict chose to die by firing squad, which only goes back at most as long as we’ve had guns.
But in Iran, they occasionally use methods of capital punishment which go back literally to the Stone Age. In Islamic criminal jurisprudence, stoning or lapidation is called Rajm. Typically, the victim (when female, such as is the case here) is buried up to their chest and then people throw rocks at them until they’re dead. The rocks are supposed to be smaller than one’s fist, which reduces the chances that the victim will receive a mercifully quick fatal blow. The punishment as it’s applied for adultery is prescribed in Islam in the Hadith, Book 17, Number 4192:
[W]henever Allah’s Apostle received revelation, he felt its rigour and the complexion of his face changed. One day revelation descended upon him, he felt the same rigour. When it was over and he felt relief, he said: Take from me. Verily Allah has ordained a way for them (the women who commit fornication),: (When) a married man (commits adultery) with a married woman, and an unmarried male with an unmarried woman, then in case of married (persons) there is (a punishment) of one hundred lashes and then stoning (to death). And in case of unmarried persons, (the punishment) is one hundred lashes and exile for one year.
Now fast forward to the present day and we have the case of Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani, a Turkish-speaking mother of two from the northern Iranian city of Tabriz who was convicted of adultery in 2006. Human rights attorney Mohammed Mostafaei claims that Ashtiani’s confession to adultery may have been due to language barriers, since she does not speak Farsi. If that’s true, then it would echo the case of Fawza Falih, an illiterate women who was coerced to sign a confession to being guilty of “witchcraft” by the Saudi Arabian Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, a.k.a. the “religious police” – a confession which, of course, she could not even read. The religious police refused to even read the accusations to her in that case.
Amnesty International is pushing hard against this miscarriage of justice, but as far as the Iranian courts are concerned it’s a done deal. Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani could be stoned to death at any minute. The only thing that could prevent it is a ginormous international campaign on her behalf, which even in the case of Iran is not unprecedented. Maybe it’s not plausible to expect the Iranian government to have a deconversion experience and suddenly realize that their legal system is bullshit and based on ridiculous mythology, but at least we can maybe help out the most egregious victims one at a time.
UPDATE: Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani will not be stoned to death, but she still faces the death penalty for adultery.
UPDATE II: The Iranian government has banned the media from covering this case.
UPDATE III: The Guardian reports Ashtiani’s cellmate’s account of the initial verdict.
UPDATE IV: The President of Brazil has made a call to grant asylum to Ashtiani. I have not yet heard of a similar call made by our President, unfortunately.
UPDATE V: Iran’s government rejected President da Silva’s offer.
UPDATE VII: Ashtiani is now facing 99 lashes for indecency because a newspaper published a picture of her without her headscarf.
UPDATE VIII: The secretary general of Iran’s High Council for Human Rights said that there is a “good chance” that Ashtiani will not be executed.
UPDATE IX: A German group is reporting that Ashtiani is free, but the Iranian government has not yet confirmed.
UPDATE X: The Iranian government released a video of Ashtiani confessing to her husband’s murder, which they claim is “contrary to a vast publicity campaign by Western media that confessed murderer Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani has been released.”