Stop stoning in Iran


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A woman is dying under a rain of stones while buried in the ground to the top of her breasts. Her children are watching her bleed and moan as a cruel, ignorant mob is throwing stones at her invoking divine justice.

This is not a terror movie. This nightmare is taking place under the contemporary laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran. 43-year-old Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is just the latest addition to the long list of women and men who have been sentenced to stoning since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979. The Islamic Penal Code of Iran specifies stoning as the punishment for a married woman or man found guilty of adultery. And legislators, in a unique act of state-sponsored sadism, set detailed conditions for carrying out the stoning, including that the pebbles used should be big enough to kill the victim, but not so big as to kill him/her too quickly.

Mehrangiz Kar, a courageous Iranian lawyer and human rights defender, recalled how she once approached a cleric who was the judge of one of her stoning cases and asked whether he thought that this cruel and inhumane law should be changed. The judge's compassionate reply was that the stoning was a verdict set by God, and humans had no business messing up with God's will.

In a situation where stoning is a legitimate punishment for adultery, pressure of the international community on the Islamic regime is the only way to prevent such inhuman practices.

Turkey has a role to play in bringing the world's attention to these laws. The Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government has gone to great lengths to improve Turkey’s relations with Iran. By voting against new sanctions against Iran in the UN Security Council, Ankara hoped to gain certain leverage over Tehran. Now is the time to put this newly found friendship to good use and to speak out against stoning in unambiguous terms.

Turkey can do so without appearing to be interfering in Iran's internal affairs. All it has to do is to remind Iranians about the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, or ICCPR, to which Iran is a signatory. Article 6 (2) of the ICCPR states that in countries which have not abolished the death penalty, sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes. Article 7 explicitly prohibits torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Turkey's foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu did call on Iran to immediately halt the execution of Ashtiani. But as long as the stoning remains on the book, more women and men may have to face her horrifying destiny. To prevent this, statements are not enough. There must be a concerted international effort to achieve an abolition of the stoning law in Iran.

It would be naive to expect the AKP government to play a leading role in such an effort. Governments seldom prioritize human rights when important security and trade issues are at stake, as is the case in Turko-Iranian relations. And in its pursuit of "zero problems" policy with neighbours the AKP has been too willing to accommodate the mullahs by turning a blind eye at Tehran’s repressive policies.

It falls then on Turkish civil society to push the government to stand up for human rights. But the passive reaction of Turkish civil society to the stoning case stands in sharp contrast to the mobilisation in support of the Palestinians during the Gaza war in 2009 or during the recent flotilla crisis with Israel. There are, of course, some admirable voices denouncing the stoning and other human rights violations in Iran, like those of the Turkish Human Rights Association and some columnists in the pro-secular media. And there is, of course, nothing wrong about protesting the blockade Israel imposed on Gaza. But a genuine commitment to the defence of human rights requires consistency and does not tolerate double standards. Unfortunately, there was nothing in Turkey like a campaign in most Western countries against stoning. While international press almost daily runs stories about the case, the Turkish media, especially on the pro-AKP side, largely keeps silent.

Some nongovernmental organizations seem to have a highly selective interest in human rights violations in the world. An overview of the activities of such well-known Turkish NGOs as Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief, or İHH, the Association of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed People, or MAZLUM-DER, and the Free Thought and Education Rights Association, or ÖZGÜR-DER, reveals their complete indifference to stoning in Iran. A self-avowed pro-democracy group, the "Young Civilians," denounced the president Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, former foreign minister Tzipi Livni of Israel and King Abdullah of Jordan for “the crimes against humanity in Gaza," but is for some reason hesitant to adopt a similarly belligerent approach towards the leaders of the Islamic Republic.

Hence an invitation to the Turkish citizens: please, urge your government to stop neglecting human rights in its relations with Iran. Prime-Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu should demand from the leaders of the Islamic Republic: a) a complete review of the process by which Sakineh Mohammadi was sentenced to stoning; b) halt on her execution; and, c) a revision of the Penal Code, including the abolition of stoning as running contrary to Iran's international obligations under the ICCPR.

The leaders of the Islamic Republic should be served notice that the world is watching them, and that they will be held accountable, if they fail to comply with the demands of the international community.

* Eldar Mamedov is an international relations analyst based in Brussels.

© 2009 Hurriyet Daily News