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Stop Stoning Forever Campaign

"One year and three months ago, a man and a woman were stoned to death in Behesht-Reza near Mashad, Iran. When we followed up and reported it, the authorities, including the late Karimi-Rad, Justice Department spokesman, denied it. Even our own friends and colleagues repeatedly reminded us that following a directive issued by the head of the judiciary in 1381 (2002), there had not been any stonings in Iran.

While this indifference was going on, another convict in Ahwaz was told to get ready to be stoned to death.

We had gone to Ahwaz to meet with the woman’s lawyer and family to see if there was any way we could save her. That’s when we heard there was another woman in Jolfa in a similar predicament whose case is truly shocking. It would amaze anyone.

The woman in Jolfa had already been taken to be stoned once before. She was a smart woman who had read books on related laws while in prison, and who had reminded the judge, on the day of her execution, that her execution would have been illegal since she had not yet received a reply to her latest appeal. The judge was swayed to postpone the execution until the appeal is heard. The woman’s elderly mother and her pro bono lawyers, publicized her case as they pursued legal remedies. Eventually, the sentence was overturned, she was re-tried and acquitted of adultery.

These events, which can be amply documented- and what document could be better than living witnesses, were happening at a time when the authorities were denying them, and ordinary citizens doubted they could happen.

[Translator’s note: Apparently, while stoning is a permissible punishment in Islamic Republic’s penal code, it is not practiced in with any fanfare or even overtly. Most cases involve poor, uneducated defendants, usually women, in rural areas which seldom receive national attention. The sentence is usually handed down by a local judge who then oversees its execution.]

WHY THIS CAMPAIGN?

It was during these times that Stop Stoning Forever Campaign came to being. Our goals were to find cases, research them, help find attorneys who would vigorously represent the defense, activism & publicity, and, ultimately, freeing the convicts with an eye towards abolishing stoning altogether. Stoning is a cruel and backward punishment. We knew that raising awareness about an issue like stoning in the 21st century is not just about saving one life or changing one law. It will inevitably lead to examining other draconian or discriminatory laws in the court of public opinion. We expected other social, cultural, or even political institutions to rise up against it.

Founders of this campaign had previously been active in other human rights and women’s causes. Their focus on stoning was initially seen as a struggle over something “that’s not all that important”.

The reason this campaign was not initially taken seriously had several reasons: One was that the number of cases involved was small. Two, it seemed as if this was a single injustice against women and not legally very broad. Third, some people felt why challenge a law that is not supposed to be enforced anyway?

Fourth, there were some who felt stoning was not a cause for legal activism but a matter of prevailing social customs that consider sexual indiscretions unforgivable. Needless to say, these “customs” typically leave a thousand loopholes for men to escape the charge of adultery. In other word, the fourth group believed that as long as there are people in society who are willing to throw stones at an adulterer, or even are willing to witness it as a public ritual, then that lends some legitimacy to stoning as a punishment.

There were more than a few objections but we were aware of the issues. For example, we’ve known all along that when you fight against something like stonings, just as the law needs to be changed, so do certain underlying social power bases that go with it. Case in point: Why is that in countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan or Iraq, it is not the law or law enforcement who carries out stonings, but these stonings, like all other honor killings, are the wish and will of the local men? Furthermore, the more tradition and custom enters the equation, the more anti-woman the formula gets. Why is it then, in Pakistan, for instance, the punishment for a man who rapes a woman is to let the victim’s male relatives rape one of the rapist’s female relatives? These are matters of masculine honor which punish any sexual indiscretion by women according to a traditional patriarchal order.

In any case, the Stop Stoning Forever Campaign was formed and carried on for several reasons:

First, the severity of the act embodies “cruel and unusual punishment” prior to a preordained death. Even if someone escapes this fate, you can’t expect them to escape the psychological trauma that follows them for the rest of their lives [not to mention the social stigma]. Stoning convicts are typically some of the neediest, most destitute people in society. It’s hard to ignore them and still call yourself a woman’s rights, or human rights, activist.

Second, despite popular belief, even though number of stonings in Iran is small, and even though among them there are men to be found, the path to their end almost always involves gender discrimination against women.

The nightmare that is the life of a stoning defendant is a tunnel of horrors through which a woman has lived, all her life, unable to choose her spouse, unable to get a divorce, precluded from equal inheritance, subjected to her husband’s polygamy, deprived from sexual freedoms, financially dependant, unworthy of her children’s custody, etc. She stands at the end of this tunnel. Are there not people, especially women, who know this tunnel well, and who walk the halls of the legal system, that can help these victims?

This aid, this comfort, does not, in any way, condone what is referred to as “infidelity”. This is support for a human being’s right to choose his or her fate, regardless of gender. This is support for equality under law. It is also a reflection of the need to reform social institutions to benefit women.

Women’s rights activism in our predominantly visual culture needs visual arguments. The image of half-burying someone alive and stoning them to death is a compelling picture.

One can not read Hajieh’s story and not feel compassion for her. When you read Makrameh’s story, you’ll no doubt appreciate the case for allowing young girls to choose their own spouses. This campaign tries to delve into the lives of the men and women who are victims of stonings and reveal the bigger picture to society. We want to follow their stories and study the relationship between their particular lives and the place women have in society.

Today, the result may be the knowledge that a person’s life was taken under a barrage of stones. But, these events were happening before away from the scrutiny of public opinion. Once we shine a light on such acts, in a world where international treaties demand respect for human dignity, someone has to answer for such acts. This time, what heretofore was reported as “sharia justice”, and was recorded in death certificates as “execution without resistance”, can come into public view.

And what about those who ask, “Shall we allow spousal infidelity pass in silence?” The answer to them is that the purpose of our campaign is not to argue criminal justice aspects of infidelity. The focus here is on punishment- the punishment itself- not its relationship to the crime. Whether we consider infidelity a crime, in conscious or in law, a torturous punishment is illegal and unacceptable. Further legal arguments are beyond the scope of our concerns at the moment.

One of the strangest arguments is that so long as there are people who are willing to throw the stones, and so long as infidelity is unacceptable in our society, nothing will change. Laws do not reflect the wishes of a few hundred people who throw stones at others. Laws must protect the society as well as the safety of individuals. Laws must be in step with civilized norms of our times. Laws must lead societies away from violence and criminality.

If women like Mahboubeh or Makrameh had had the right to separate from spouses with whom life under the same roof had become unbearable, had they had some legal refuge in their predicaments, there would not have been infidelity, nor spouse killing. There would not have been any stonings.

Another incredible aspect of these legal proceedings is the inconsistency and inequity of judgments. A woman who was pimped by her husband receives the same sentence as the woman who followed her own hearts desire. A woman who was in another town at the time of her husband’s murder, and who never confessed to an inappropriate relationship, is given the same sentence as the woman who was found living with her husband’s killer in another town.

Human rights protect every individual. When a woman from the lowest rungs of society enjoys the same legal protections as everyone else, then we can say we have are moving towards equal rights."

By: Assieh Amini

Translated by: Manesh

Source: Rooz Online

July 16, 2007

Learn more about the Stop Stoning Forever Campaign:

www.meydaan.com (in English and Farsi)