She was not hanged today, but she could die tomorrow, or not, but no-one knows for sure, least of all Sakineh Ashtiani herself. This sickening and ghoulish spectacle is proof if ever it were needed that it's time to get tough with Iran.
The 43-year-old Iranian woman admitted several years ago that she had had “illegal relationships,” an offense which carries the sentence of death by stoning in Iran, although her confession is widely claimed to have been obtained by the use of torture. She has been in prison ever since and has never been sure if, when, or how she will be executed. The death-by-stoning sentence is contained in Article 86 of the country’s Penal Code, which is based on the Sharia as it is interpreted by the Iranian justice system.
In a scenario which reminds one of a cat toying with an injured mouse before delivering the coup-de-grace, Iranian authorities have been cynically using her plight as a negotiating tool with the rest of the world, and has threatened to execute her on several occasions before backing down at the last moment after intense and worldwide diplomatic pressure.
That was the case again today. Her execution – by hanging this time it would appear – was to be carried out this afternoon but was postponed yet again after pleas by many countries, including France, the United States, Canada and the UK that she be spared.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy is reported to have personally lodged an extremely violent telephone protest with Iranian authorities in which he said he was considering her fate as being a matter he was taking personally before warning that if Iran “touched one hair of her head” he would see to it that all talks on all issues with Iran would be instantly halted.
Iran has denounced what it sees as foreign interference in its affairs, with a spokesman declaring that Western countries 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" before adding that "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."
Also, French Foreign minister Bernard Kouchner had called his Iranian counterpart - Manouchehr Mottaki – to ask that she be spared only for Mottaki to tell him that no verdict in her case had been reached. Mottaki is lying of course and is contradicting the many occasions on which Iranian authorities, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad himself, have confirmed her sentence.
Ahmadinejad has also had the disgusting arrogance to accuse the United States of hypocrisy as America also uses the death sentence, using the execution of Teresa Lewis in Virginia as an example.
He conveniently avoids mentioning however that Lewis pleaded guilty to arranging the murder of two members of her family and admitted having sex with the two killers she hired to do the job as well as allowing one of them to have sex with her 16-year-old daughter in a car park, whereas Ashtiani was found guilty of adultery – in other words the same ‘offense’ committed by Lewis and which is not subject to criminal law - after confessing as the result of what is widely believed to have been the use of torture. She subsequently withdrew her ‘confession’ only to find herself charged with murder as well as adultery. Also, Lewis had access to lawyers who appealed her sentence several times whereas Ashtiani was convicted without legal representation.
As things stand today, Ashtiani’s sentence still stands and she is still living in the knowledge that she may be executed at any time.
How long is this atrocious mental torture going to be allowed to continue? This rogue state is the antithesis of everything that decency ever meant. It is time for the world to follow Sarkozy’s lead by making it clear to the Iranian authorities that all negotiations and talks on all issues affecting Iran, including those concerning its nuclear capability, will cease and that further, heavier, sanctions will be applied if this abominable torture consisting of years of mental cruelty continues or if the threat to stone a woman to death for mere allegations of adultery is carried out.