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Iranian Family Works to Save Mother From Stoning

Jul 6, 2010 – 12:37 PM
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Dana Kennedy

Dana Kennedy Contributor

(July 6) -- The fate of an Iranian mother of two sentenced to be stoned to death at any time hung in the balance today as a last-minute campaign to save her gathered strength and her lawyer said even he did not know what the outcome will be.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, 43, who was convicted of adultery in 2006, is "very frightened and very sad" as she sits in a prison cell in Tabriz and worries about the two children she has not seen in four years, said her lawyer. Her son and daughter started the crusade to save her.

"Sakineh is supposed to be stoned to death, and I still think it could happen at any time," her lawyer, Mohammed Mostafaei, told AOL News in a telephone interview from Iran Tuesday.

"She feels helpless and hopeless," he said. "She says she is not guilty, but the government says she is guilty. The conviction is a sham. I would like to think that the news of this case will help her, but I can't be sure."

Mina Ahadi, head of the International Committee Against Stoning and the Death Penalty, told AOL News today that the Iranian government may meet Saturday to decide Ashtiani's fate.

Ahadi, an Iranian human rights activist who fled Iran for Germany in the 1980s, began helping Ashtiani's children, Sajad, 22, and Farideh, 17, spearhead a campaign to raise public awareness about their mother.

"I spoke to her son today, and he has a little bit of hope," Ahadi said. "Sometimes these death sentences are overturned because of public pressure."

Though Iran supposedly enacted a moratorium on stoning in 2002, the practice has continued, according to Iranian human rights activists and Amnesty International. About 40 stonings were reported in Iran between the 1979 Islamic Revolution and 1997. Since 2002, men and women alike have been stoned despite the moratorium, but reliable statistics are difficult to come by, according to Ahadi.

Under Sharia law in Iran, a woman's death by stoning involves being buried up to the neck and having stones hurled at her head. The law even specifies the size of the stones: not so big that the victim dies quickly, but not so small that death takes an inordinately long time.

Sakineh received a sentence of 99 lashes after her conviction for adultery in 2006. Her lawyer said she was forced to confess to the adultery charge and has since retracted the confession. A further complication is that Sakineh speaks Turkish and does not understand Farsi.

Her son, then 17, witnessed her flogging.

"They lashed her just in front of my eyes," Sajad told the London Guardian. "This has been carved in my mind since then."

The case against Sakineh was reopened when Tabriz officials decided she might have murdered her husband. She was ultimately acquitted of murder, but a judge then reviewed the adultery case against her and sentenced her to death. In doing so, the judge used a legal loophole called "judicial knowledge," which permits judges to make decisions based on their personal feelings, regardless of actual evidence.

"Imagine what's she's going through right now," said Maryam Namazie, an Iranian human rights activist based in Britain who works with Iran Solidarity, among other organizations. "Knowing she'll never see her children again. Facing the torture of being stoned. Being flogged 99 times is bad enough."

Namazie told AOL News today that the only thing that will help Ashtiani is if people contact their lawmakers and sign online petitions for Ashtiani.

"People should make some noise," Namazie said. "Bring stones out to public places and make a pile of them with Sakineh's name on it. Call your government officials, Do something."

Namazie told AOL News that many other women are stoned in Iran, but the government carries out the executions in secret.

"It's only when families are brave enough like Sakineh's family to come out and fight for their loved ones that the world finds out what is happening in Iran," Namazie said.

Movies like the 2008 film "The Stoning of Soraya M." have focused attention on stoning women in Iran and have embarrassed the Iranian government, Namazie said.

Amnesty International reports that 126 people have been executed as of June 6 this year in Iran and said another woman, Zeynab Jalalian, is in danger of being executed at any time for the crime of "enmity against God."
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