In the eyes of the Iranian legal system, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashitani, a 43-year-old mother of two, committed the crime of "adultery while being married." While Ms. Ashitani has been spared a particularly grizzly fate - death by stoning - she still faces execution. The death sentence represents a crime against women, and therefore, against humanity.
In September, 2006, Ms. Ashitani was flogged 99 times. The meting-out of that repugnant punishment was deemed insufficient, however, and she was retried.
In the brutal calculus of Iranian law, even a death sentence has a sexist element. The law allows those who escape the stoning to have their sentence commuted, but while men are buried to their waist before the first stone is thrown, women are buried all the way to their necks.
Yesterday Iran announced that sentence would not be applied. If, however, the regime substitutes a barbaric sentence with a merely abhorrent one - death by hanging - then justice will not have been served. Capital punishment is an affront in any form. It is made worse in Ms. Ashitani's case because she denies the charges, and because Iranian law allows judges to sometimes convict based on their own "knowledge," even if direct evidence is lacking. Here, three of the five judges convicted on those grounds, while two dissented.
Execution for crimes related to marriage is just another instrument of sexual oppression. Women are the inevitable, disproportionate targets. Today, 12 other women and one man face death by stoning for adultery.
Iran uses the legal power to kill its own civilians to exercise political and social control. Last year, it executed 388 people, including many dissidents, likely the second highest toll in the world after China.
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There is no evidence yet that Ms. Ashitani's case is especially political. But regardless of the perceived threat from the defendant to the regime, due process has never been its interest. Iran often executes those on death row quickly and secretly.
And these outrages occur even if strong forces within Iran oppose them. The country's parliament and top judge have condemned stoning as a sentence, but, at the place where true power lies - the Guardian Council, the body that interprets the constitution and vets political candidates - it is still permitted.
A courageous campaign by Ms. Ashitani's children, her lawyer, joined by prominent women around the world and international human rights groups, has forced Iran to set aside the stoning sentence in this case. It is time for the world to join them to demand an end to death sentences for adultery and the use of medieval punishments.
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