It’s been over a year since the Islamic Republic of Iran, after a fierce outcry from the international community, appeared to drop plans to stone to death Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani for adultery.
Governments and human rights monitors decried the lack of due process the Azeri-Iranian woman was accorded during judicial proceedings in which she was found guilty, and the punishment itself was denounced throughout the world for its barbarity. The stoning sentence was suspended, and there was a suggestion by an Iranian official that Ms. Ashtiani’s life might be spared.
The U.S. government continues to closely monitor this case and calls -- in concert with the international community -- for Ms. Ashtiani to be granted a fair trial or released.
Ms. Ashtiani has remained in prison, not only because of the adultery charge, but also for another crime -- complicity in the murder of her husband – - to which she confessed under circumstances many believe were coercive. One of her lawyers, Mohammad Mostafaei, was forced to flee Iran; the other, Javid Hootan Kian, is in prison; reports are he has been severely tortured.
After months of silence, an Iranian official recently spoke out about Ms. Ashtiani’s case. The head of the judiciary in East Azerbaijan province reportedly said that facilities where she is held are not adequate to carry out a stoning sentence, so authorities are investigating whether it will be religiously acceptable to execute her by hanging instead.
The U.S. State Department has expressed deep concern that “judicial cases, trials and sentences continue to proceed without transparency and the due process rights enshrined in Iran’s own constitution,” and urged the Iranian government “to halt these executions and to guarantee the rights of its citizens in accordance with its international obligations.”
An activist with the International Committee to Prevent Stoning, Mina Ahadi, said she believes by bringing up Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s case after a year, the Iranian regime “is testing the waters.”
The international community should make clear the waters are not amenable. The hundreds of people killed in Iran in 2011 in a system lacking due process are now beyond help. But a global chorus should once again be raised in support of Ms. Ashtiani and all other Iranians who currently sit in prison in the shadow of death, convicted in violation of the rule of law and their fundamental rights.