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Iranian Woman, Sentenced to Death by Stoning, May Be Spared

2008’s The Stoning of Soraya M. jarred audiences with an uncompromising portrayal of Islamic “justice” in Iran. The film was based on a book by French journalist Freidoune Sahebjam, and relayed the true story of a woman framed for adultery by her husband as a way to extricate himself from the marriage. Under Islamic Sharia Law, adultery is a crime punishable by death.

The story is told in the form of a flashback. Soraya’s aunt recites the tale to Sahebjam. We therefore know from the start (if not the title) how the story ends. That is part of what makes the film so powerful. As the circumstances building toward Soraya’s stoning take shape, the viewer finds their fragile hope repeatedly dashed upon the rocks of foreknowledge.

Another real-life tale of the sickening injustice manifest in Sharia Law has taken shape in recent years. Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian woman, was sentenced to death by stoning only four years ago. The handling of her case reveals the moral confusion which manifests in Islamic legalism.

Ashtiani was convicted in 2006 of having an “illicit relationship” with two men after the murder of her husband the year before. Later that year, she was also convicted of adultery and sentenced to be stoned, even though she retracted a confession that she says was made under duress.

That duress was allegedly “99 lashes of the whip in front of her kids.” Responding to outcry from the international community, Iran put Ashtiani’s execution on hold pending review by the Iranian Supreme Court. The latest news is that Ashtiani’s life may be spared.

“Iran’s Council of Human Rights [ICHR] has helped a lot to reduce her sentence and we think there is a good chance that her life could be saved,” [ICHR head] Mohammad Javad Larijani said in an interview on the English-language Press TV on Monday night.

This is a welcome development. However, it is telling that even among Iran’s so-called human rights proponents no opportunity is missed to throw stones in their glass house.

Larijani also criticized international media for their double standard, focusing on the Iranian judicial system and not mentioning such cases as an American woman executed in September for using sex and money to arrange for the killings of her husband and stepson.

“Nothing is said about the American woman, but there are lots of criticism regarding our judicial system,” and this shows “how biased, unrealistic and hypocritical and malicious” this media hype about Iran is.

This criticism is an embarrassing indictment of Larijani’s moral confusion, no doubt informed by political self-preservation in a country where opposition to the state could have grave consequences. Murder and conspiracy to murder are significantly higher crimes than adultery. Method of execution is another a point of contrast. Of course, in a nation whose sensibilities demand adulterers be put to death by stoning, such distinctions hardly resonate.

Walter Hudson is a political commentator and co-founder of Minnesota’s North Star Tea Party Patriots, a statewide educational organization. He runs a blog entitled Fightin Words. He also contributes to True North, a hub of Minnesotan conservative commentary. Follow his work via Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

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