Wednesday, November 3, 2010

SAVE This Woman, Please!

An urgent petition has been launched to save the life of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning, after reports that she was to be hanged for murder TODAY!

Mohammadi Ashtiani was convicted of the double charge of adultery and conspiring to kill her husband, and received 99 lashes. Her case provoked an international outcry when it first came to light earlier this year. Iran suspended her sentence to be stoned to death in September, but the country’s judiciary chief made it clear she could still face execution by hanging for an alleged role in the plot to kill her former husband.

In August, Iranian television aired an interview in which she admitted to a relationship with a man accused of murdering her husband, but rights groups have said the confession was coerced. Mohammadi Ashtiani is awaiting her fate in a prison in Tabriz, a city in north-west Iran. Her lawyer was arrested in October.

Even though the 43-year-old mother of two's sentence was suspended in the face of an international outcry the International Committee against Stoning said on its website that Mohammadi Ashtiani "is to be executed this Wednesday 3 November."

I, along with most other bloggers, have reported on this tragic case since it first came to the attention of the international community, adding my voice to thousands of others urging her to be spared.

A spokeswoman for the German-based organization said this morning that it now understood Mohammadi Ashtiani would not be executed today, but said Iran was still planning to go ahead with the execution, which could take place in the next few days.

"The International Committees against Stoning and Execution call on international bodies and the people of the world to come out in full force against the state-sponsored murder of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani," she said.

In addition, governments here and abroad also appealed to Iran to spare Mohammadi Ashtiani.

The global civic advocacy network responded to the reports by launching an online petition urging people "to send an emergency message directly to the leaders of Turkey, Brazil and key UN nations who could sway Iran to halt the execution."

The goal is to reach 500,000 names. When I signed the petition, the total number of names was almost at 450,000. It's no wonder that "Ashtiani" has become one of the most widely discussed subjects on Twitter.

The boiler plate language of the petition follows, but anyone signing it can change the wording to reflect their own views:

“To leaders who can influence Iran:

I urge you to do all you can to save the life of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani.

Reports state she could be executed on November 3rd. Your help could sway the government of Iran to halt her execution, just as it did this July and August.

Please take immediate action today to persuade Iran to spare her life.


In the U.S., Canada and in Great Britain leaders spoke out against the threatened execution.

The White House condemned the planned execution and called on Tehran to "provide Ms. Ashtiani with the due process and fair treatment she deserves."

In a separate statement, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Iran's leaders "have failed once again to protect the fundamental rights of their own citizens, particularly women."

"Ms. Ashtiani's case has not proceeded with the transparency and due process guaranteed under Iranian law, and we are concerned about reports of coerced confessions and other mistreatment," Secretary Clinton said.

British Foreign Office Minister for the Middle East Alistair Burt echoed those views yesterday, saying "I am deeply disturbed by suggestions that Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani could be executed imminently. Any move to execute her would be utterly unacceptable and would be condemned widely and in the strongest terms. The world watches and waits."

Minister Burt later spoke to the charge d'affaires at the Iranian embassy in London, who was unable to confirm or deny reports of Mohammadi Ashtiani's imminent execution. He told the diplomat that her death would be condemned throughout Europe.

A letter signed by 119 British MPs, calling on Iran to live up to its commitments as a signatory of the International Declaration of Human Rights, was delivered to the Iranian embassy in London.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague warned Iranian authorities against going ahead with the punishment, saying it would hurt Iran's international relations.

"This is a barbaric punishment and it will damage Iran in the eyes of the world. It will be much better not to proceed with it," Hague told reporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, during a visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

The EU high representative, Lady Ashton, was said to be "deeply concerned" about the reports. "She demands that Iran halts the execution and converts her sentence," a spokesman said.

The U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office said it had also been unable to confirm whether the reports of Mohammadi Ashtiani's imminent execution were true.

The Canadian government too was “deeply troubled” by these reports. Addressing Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad directly, Laureen Harper, the wife of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper wrote: "We urge you to take a progressive step towards improving the lives of Iranian women, mothers, daughters and sisters by unconditionally releasing Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani. Certainly, this would be welcomed by women around the world as seen as a deeply symbolic gesture toward the betterment of all Iranian women."

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon responded to the news in the House of Commons yesterday.

“Our government is deeply troubled by reports that Iran may be moving forward with its plans to execute this woman,” Cannon said. “The appalling treatment of her is completely out of line with international standards and the rule of law.”

Marina Nemat, an Iranian-Canadian author who was tortured in Iran and has campaigned with Indigo Books and Music CEO Heather Reisman to save Mohammadi Ashtiani, said the execution may or may not be imminent, as little is clear when dealing with Iran.

“I’m keeping my hopes up because the question is what the Iranian regime would gain from killing this woman,” Nemat said. “The world would be outraged.”

Canada has imposed several rounds of sanctions on Iran stemming from United Nations Security Council resolutions, and in July announced unilateral sanctions that, among other things, ban Canadian investment in Iranian oil and gas projects. Canada has also issued several statements condemning Iran, and for the last seven years presented an Iran resolution at the U.N. General Assembly that highlights the country’s record of human-rights failures.

Payam Akhavan, an Iranian-born international law professor at McGill University, said the stoning case reflects a broader conflict in Iran, as a hard-line regime under threat from a democracy movement tries to maintain its hold on power. He said Mohammadi Ashtiani is one of more than 30 women threatened by stoning in a country that now has the world’s highest per-capita rate of executions.

“This is part of the terrorization of the people,” Prof. Akhavan said. “When you start executing large numbers of people in heinous ways, you’re sending a message to the public at large.”

Prof. Akhavan said Canada should follow the lead of the United States, which in September issued an executive order against eight senior members of the Iranian regime, including the commander of the Revolutionary Guard, which allows the U.S. to seize their assets, block their travel to the U.S. and prevent Americans from doing business with them.

“The signal that it sends is that we’re not just issuing a U.N. resolution condemning the government,” Prof. Akhavan said. “We are blaming you, individually, and your name has now been carved in stone and one day when you’re not in power everyone will know who you are.”

As could be predicted, Tehran accused the West of trying to pressure it over the case, while a judiciary official said she was in "perfect health" and her case was still being reviewed.

"They (Western nations) have become so shameless that they have turned the case of Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani, who has committed crime and treason, into a human rights case against our nation," foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said.

"It has become a symbol of women's freedom in Western nations and with impudence they want to free her. Thus, they are trying to use this ordinary case as a pressure lever against our nation," the ISNA news agency quoted him as saying.

"The other side is only looking for pretexts against the Islamic establishment and if...we give into their demands they will assert, so there will be nothing left of the revolution and the establishment," state news agency IRNA quoted him as saying.

The sentence of death by stoning was suspended after it was condemned by the U.S., Britain and international human rights groups. The outgoing Brazilian president, Luiz InĂ¡cio Lula da Silva, an ally of Iran, offered asylum to Mohammadi Ashtiani but was rebuffed by the Tehran regime.

Human Rights Watch says Mohammadi Ashtiani was first convicted in May 2006 of having an "illicit relationship" with two men following the death of her husband and was sentenced by a court to 99 lashes. She was later sentenced to death by stoning.

In August, Mohammadi Ashtiani was put on state-run TV where she "confessed" to adultery and involvement in the murder of her husband, but her lawyer, Houtan Kian, said she had been tortured beforehand.

At the end of August she was subjected to a mock execution, according to her 22-year-old son, Sajad Ghaderzadeh. The following month, she was allegedly given 99 lashes after a British newspaper ran a picture of an unveiled woman mistakenly identified as her, Kian said at the time.

Ghaderzadeh, who launched the international campaign to save his mother in June, was arrested in Iran last month with two German journalists who had interviewed him about his mother's case. The International Committee against Stoning is also demanding their release and that of Kian, who is also believed to have been detained.

This account remains shocking, and beyond tragic. I deeply respect Islamic law, but this decision appears to be purely a political reaction to the furor that the initial sentence caused.

When I began this blog, I created my alter ego, “The Curator,” who would lead readers through the amazing and varied world of sexual behavior and beliefs without judgment, with as much neutrality as possible.

Not this time.

I had done this because I felt there were too many loud opinions about anything and everything and not enough information conveyed in markedly egocentric blogs. I wanted readers to decide how they felt, working hard to make The Curator as unobtrusive as possible, even invisible rather than a part of the process.

Not this time.

Enough! Enough fear. Enough pain. Enough agony. Enough torture. Enough death. E-NOUGH misery imposed by cowardly dictators hiding behind the safety net of blind religious tradition and the faithful.

I am a tolerant person. I believe that all countries have the right of autonomy, that religion is personal and should be left to believers to choose or reject, and that WEST does not always equal BEST.

I am not a Christian; I am not a Jew; I am not a Muslim. I do not follow any of the Abrahamic faith paths. I am not speaking out as an American, or a proponent of any political ideology. I am speaking simply as a human being, reaching out to other human beings. I am literally on my knees. I beg Iran and all Iranians to spare this woman as was promised. Please. Please.

— The Curator

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