Iran: Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani faces imminent death by stoning


Another woman is on the verge of death by “stones” or, in more familiar terms, is awaiting news to confirm or abolish death by stoning. Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani was interrogated in 2006 for the murder of her husband. In the interrogation session, Sakineh confessed to committing adultery with Nasser and Seyyed Ali, the two men responsible for her late husband’s murder. In May 2006, branch 101 of the Criminal Court of Oskoo in the province of Eastern Azerbaijan (in northwestern Iran) sentenced Sakineh to 99 lashes for committing adultery. After serving her sentence, she was released. Four months later, branch 6 of the Criminal Court of Azerbaijan sentenced her to death by stoning for adultery while married. *

In the past few years, Sakineh has requested a pardon twice. Her requests were turned down by the Amnesty and Pardon Commission of Azerbaijan.

Last week, the news of the possible stoning of Sakineh was published on news sites and, once again, it drew public attention to the punishment of death by stone. Currently, the case of this young woman is in the Executions office in Tabriz (the capital of the province of Eastern Azerbaijan), and her stoning sentence can be carried out any moment-  the same way the sentence of death by stoning for Mr. Jafar Kiani [in the summer of 2007 in a village in the province of Qazvin] was carried out, to the public’s astonishment and disbelief.

Sakine’s children plead with the world: “Don’t let our nightmare become a reality”


Sakineh’s case, like others pertaining to stoning, has some serious errors and objectionable problems. For example, two of the five judges, Kazemi and Hamdollahi, presiding over the case in branch 6 of the provincial Criminal Court, believed in her acquittal.

In an interview with Rooz, Mohammad Mostafaei, Sakineh’s laywer, stated, “When two, or even one of the magistrates presiding over a case in the Criminal Court, believe in an acquittal and find errors in the presented evidence, then the defendant should not be sentenced to death. When the life of a human being is in question, there must be more hesitation and contemplation. One’s life should not be taken away so easily or be subjected to [excruciating] death.”

Mr. Mostafaei, who was referring to the fact that the request for a pardon and amnesty for Sakineh was turned down twice, stated, “I believe some of the judges in the province have specific dogmas, and these dogmas play a key role in the fate of legal cases. There is the fury caused by the dogma of murder [editor's  note: which causes the judges to take on a linear approach with murder cases]. There is also the act of adultery committed by Sakineh and the fact that the murderers were deemed incapable of correct judgment. Consequently Sakineh was sentenced to and endured 99 lashes for adultery. Why, just a few months after the case was closed, was she sentenced and convicted again on the charge of adultery while married? Wasn’t the first court presiding over the case aware of the act of adultery?”


Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is spending her days awaiting her stoning sentence. She has no access to a complainant or plaintiff outside the prison and her two children have acquitted her. She, like many other women sentenced to stoning, confessed to adultery during her interrogation, but in the court and before the judge, she renounced her confession and declared that she was forced to confess during interrogation.

Asieh Amini, a journalist who is active in research and writing on death by stoning, said to Rooz Online, “The most important question in all the stoning cases, including that of Sakineh, is what evidence and reasoning  was used to prove adultery in the court? Based on the Islamic Penal Code, four fair witnesses are required to have seen the act firsthand, in full, and from close up. An alternative acceptable piece of evidence is the voluntary confession of a defendant stated four times.  How are these four witnesses found? Isn’t the very law that has its root in religious sources a testament to the fact that religion should close the legal case? Nevertheless, if we observe carefully, the stoning sentences handed down all use a permissive religious jurisprudence. A religious defense is not considered in the courts. ”

Asieh Amini points out that it is practically impossible to find four fair witnesses as described in religious jurisprudence. She adds, “The objection is still valid against the courts that only use the knowledge of the judge [as a basis for conviction],* while many of the jurists and legal experts believe that the knowledge of the judge is not a valid method of proving that adultery was committed. Moreover, the confessions of all the defendants who I investigated were obtained under duress in prison, and the legal admissibility of the confessions is greatly compromised.”



INEFFECTIVE CONDUCT OF THE 8TH PARLIAMENT (The current parliament that began its mandate in 2007)

Sakineh Mohammadi is at the top of the list of those sentenced to death by stoning. However, there are other women and men in various cities of Iran who pass their days hoping that their sentences will change and so will the penal law. During the international protests against stoning in Iran, the only action taken by members of the 8th Parliament was omitting the section pertaining to stoning punishments from the draft of the Islamic Penal Code. Now, the question is, will the omission of this section put an end to stoning in Iran?

Asieh Amini’s replies, “It will have no effect whatsoever, because according to article 43 of the Constitution, when the judge has no legal source for jurisprudence, (s)he can use religious jurisprudence sources for sentencing. Removal of this section [pertaining to stoning in the Islamic Penal Law] will not have any particular impact. The parliamentarian, by taking this step, has only evaded responsibility and obligation and passed the buck before international observers, without really contributing to the improvement of conditions surrounding punishments such as stoning. The best reason to support [my claim] is the discussion of the MP’s after eliminating stoning from the Act. They said: Divine limits and punishments*** are not eliminable. That includes stoning – however, this punishment is rarely handed out, but its international burden is very high, so we prefer to omit it.”

Amini describes the conduct of the MP’s as an attempt to wipe out any questions, instead of answering. She said, “No positive step has been taken. Sakineh and other women are spending their days in fear that their sentences may get confirmed and executed. Omission of this law from the Islamic Penal Code, even after approval by the MP’s, is not practical and enforceable. In other words, the omission is worth nothing and the government is able to say: we do not have such a law. Stoning exists because there are private plaintiffs.”



Translator’s Notes:

* In Islamic Sharia law practiced and enforced in Iran, there are two types of adultery. The first one applies to unmarried women (and men) and the sentence is 99 lashes (for someone convicted two times on this charge, the third conviction results in death by stoning). The second type applies to married individuals (and mostly women). It carries a sentence called Rajam (I.e. death by stoning).

**In the Islamic Penal Code, knowledge of the judge is cited as an alternative in a case where there is lack of evidence and/or four fair witnesses.

*** In Sharia law, there are two types of punishments. One is called Hodud-e Elahi (I.e. Divine limits) and its extent and degree (limits) are set by the divinity (or God).  It includes the following punishments and crimes: severing the hand, theft;  flogging, drinking alcohol; and stoning, adultery committed by a married person. Most religious scholars and jursiprudents consider these laws absolute and unchangeable.




June 28, 2010