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Iran stonings are a legal nightmare

By Mehrangiz Kar & Azadeh Pourzand, Special to CNN
  • After international protests, Iran issued a statement saying a woman would not be stoned to death
  • Mehrangiz Kar, Azadeh Pourzand say others have suffered the horrific punishment
  • They say Islamic Republic leaders defend practice as a divine verdict
  • Co-authors: World should give priority to opposing human rights abuses by Iran

Editor's note: Mehrangiz Kar is a writer, attorney, and activist specializing in women's rights and family law. She is the recipient of several human rights awards, including the National Endowment for Democracy's Democracy Award (2002) and is a member of Human Rights Watch's Advisory Committee on the Middle East. Kar received her B.A. in Law and Political Science from Tehran University and has been a visiting scholar and fellow at several universities including Harvard University. Her daughter Azadeh Pourzand is a recent graduate of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

(CNN) -- Imagine a woman dying under a rain of stones while buried in the ground to the top of her breasts. Imagine faceless figures throwing stones at her. Imagine her last thoughts, wishes and dreams. Imagine her hoping to magically survive this brutal punishment.

Imagine her children watching her bleed and moan as people throw stones with ignorance and cruelty. Imagine this nightmare taking place under the present-day laws of a country.

Imagine a country where lawyers, journalists, human rights and women's rights advocates who courageously speak out against unjust laws often face grave consequences such as detention or exile.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani , a 43-year-old woman, had been sentenced to be stoned -- although after an international outcry, Iran has issued a statement saying she will not be punished in that way.

Video: Iran reacts to stoning case
Video: Sentenced to be stoned
Video: Support for stoning woman
  • Iran
  • Islam
  • Women's Issues
  • Religion
  • Human Rights

Over the past 31 years, many have suffered such inhumane punishment in Iran. With the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979, Islamic fundamentalism took over the laws of the country. Consequently, women and the right to their bodies became the focus of the Islamic laws in Iran. In other words, fundamentalist rulers of Iran have claimed as their own, the inherent right of a woman to her body.

The Islamic Penal Code of Iran specifies stoning as the punishment for a married woman or man found guilty of adultery. And legislators set ruthless conditions for carrying out the stoning, including that the pebbles used should be big enough to kill the victim, but not so large that they kill him/her too quickly.

As a lawyer and women's rights advocate who practiced law in the Islamic Republic for 22 years, I have worked on numerous stoning cases. Once during my career I took a risk and personally approached a young cleric who was the judge of one of my stoning cases and asked, "Don't you think this cruel and inhumane law of stoning should be changed?"

The young judge looked at me with compassion and pity and said, "Sister, don't you utter this statement somewhere else! Stoning is a verdict set by God. The earthly human cannot change a verdict set by God."

I never understood how the merciful God who is said to have created the humankind would treat its creatures with such a degree of malice.

In a situation where people are enslaved by ruthless laws, human rights and women's rights advocates began to ask for help from the international community.

Each time someone is sentenced to stoning, human rights and women's rights advocates coordinate efforts to remind the world of the unjust laws in Iran. They remind the world that a form of corporal punishment as severe as stoning is the denial of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, or ICCPR, to which Iran is a signatory.

In fact, Article 6(2) of ICCPR explicitly states that the death sentence is to be imposed only for the most serious crimes. Not only does Iran not abide by this article, it continues to issue stoning orders as a sign of obstinacy against the people of Iran -- who never witnessed a single case of stoning in modern times before the Islamic Revolution of 1979 -- and the international community.

In spite of the efforts of human rights and women's rights advocates to raise awareness about the systematic and comprehensive violations of human rights in Iran, stoning remains a legitimate punishment for adultery in the Islamic Penal Code.

One of the critical challenges that further facilitates the violations of human rights in Iran is that the international community is mainly focused on the nation's nuclear program rather than the human rights situation.

The world owes to the Sakinehs of Iran a reconsideration of its priorities in regard to the Islamic Republic. The time has come for the international community to seriously hold it accountable for the unacceptable violations of human rights against its citizens.

People and organizations in the United States and other nations should make it their explicit goal to work toward spreading the word about what goes on in Iran, condemning it in international forums and supporting those Iranians who, inside or abroad, try to speak out against these violations. What we hope to see is that the human rights situation becomes a top priority of U.S. diplomatic work towards eventual negotiations with Iran.

For as long as the world neglects the human rights situation in Iran, more women and men will have to face their horrifying destiny, as determined by unjust laws, all alone.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the co-authors.