Iran: Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani 'confession' condemned

The Guardian & AI

Human rights campaigners have condemned the announcement of an Iranian television programme showing Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a woman sentenced to death by stoning, at her home apparently discussing her part in the murder of her husband. The release last night of photographs of Mohammadi Ashtiani at her home in Osku prompted speculation that she had been freed. But hopes for her release were dashed when Iran's state English language channel said she had been taken home to make a television programme on her alleged crime

In a report on its website, Press TV said Mohammadi Ashtiani had accompanied a film crew to her house "to recount details of killing of her husband at the crime scene".

The Italian foreign minister, Franco Frattini, and Maureen Harper, the wife of the Canadian prime minister, were among those who had welcomed the unconfirmed reports of Mohammadi Ashtiani's release.

But Press TV said this morning the visit was part of a programme to be broadcast tonight.

The channel said: "Contrary to a vast publicity campaign by western media that confessed murderer Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani has been released, a team of broadcast production team with the Iran-based Press TV has arranged with Iran's judicial authorities to follow Ashtiani to her house to produce a visual recount of the crime at the murder scene."

Mohammadi Ashtiani has appeared on state TV three times, but activists say her apparent confessions had been coerced.

Clare Bracey of Amnesty said: "International standards for fair trial, to which Iran is a state party, guarantee the right not to be forced to incriminate oneself or to confess guilt. The judiciary is in charge of this case and would have to have given permission for such an interview to take place. To organise a televised 'confession' mid-way through a judicial review of a serious case – where a woman's life hangs in the balance – makes a mockery of Iran's legal system."

She added: "That judicial review [for Mohammadi Ashtiani] is further hampered by the fact that Sakineh's son and lawyer have been detained. If Sajad Qaderzadeh and Javid Houtan Kian are being held solely for peacefully highlighting Sakineh's case, they should be released immediately and unconditionally."

Mohammadi Ashtiani's son Sajad was arrested in October along with her lawyer Houtan Kian and two German journalists who were detained after trying to interview her family.

Mina Ahadi of the International Committee against Stoning (Icas) also condemned the programme, saying: "Press TV is acting as if it is the intelligence service of Iran, it has forced a woman to confess against herself on TV."

Mohammadi Ashtiani was convicted in May 2006 of conducting an illicit relationship outside marriage. She was given a sentence of 99 lashes, but her case was reopened when a court in Tabriz suspected her of murdering her husband. She was acquitted, but the adultery charge was reviewed and a death penalty handed down on the basis of "judge's knowledge" – a loophole that allows for subjective judicial rulings where no conclusive evidence is present.

Embarrassed by international condemnation of the stoning sentence, Iran has tried to distract attentions from Mohammadi Ashtiani's initial charge of adultery by introducing new charges against her and portraying her as a murderer who killed her husband.

Press TV announced its intention to broadcast an interview with Mohammadi Ashtiani on its Iran Today programme tonight which wil "shed light on the highways and byways of the murder account, with multiple interviews with people and individuals involved in the case."

Iran rarely carries out stonings. It executed 388 people last year, more than any other country apart from China, according to Amnesty International. Most were hanged.

Ten Iranian women and four men are on death row awaiting execution by stoning.





10 December 2010

AI Index: PRE01/413/2010

Amnesty International today condemned reports that Iran’s state-controlled Press TV will tonight broadcast a new “confession” by an Iranian woman who faces possible execution by stoning or hanging.

“If reports are accurate that tonight’s broadcast will contain another televised ‘confession’ from Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, its potential impact on her case should not be underestimated,” said Philip Luther, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.

“If the authorities are seeking to use this ‘confession’ to try to construct a new case against her, for a crime that she’s already been tried and sentenced for, we would condemn this in the strongest terms.”

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani was sentenced to a 10-year prison term in 2006 for the murder of her husband, which her lawyer has said was subsequently reduced to five years for “complicity” in the murder.

She was also sentenced to death by stoning for “adultery while married”. Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is held in Tabriz Prison, East Azerbaijan province, awaiting the outcome of a judicial review of her stoning sentence.

According to media reports a production team from Press TV collected Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani from prison, along with her son Sajjad Qaderzadeh, who is also currently detained, and took them to her former home to produce a “visual recount of the crime at the murder scene”, apparently for a “documentary”.

International standards for fair trial guarantee the right not to be forced to incriminate oneself or to confess guilt.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s current lawyer Javid Houtan Kiyan, arrested and detained along with Sajjad Qaderzadeh for campaigning for her life to be spared, is also understood to have been interviewed by Press TV for the programme.

“It appears that the Iranian authorities are using the Iranian media as a tool to portray her as a dangerous criminal who deserves to be executed. Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani must not be executed by any means, and if she continues to be held solely on the grounds of consensual sexual relations, the Iranian authorities must release her,” said Philip Luther.

“At the same time, the international community, which has rightly expressed serious concerns about this case, must also step up the attention it gives to the other ongoing and very serious human rights violations in Iran.  As Student Day was celebrated in Iran on Tuesday this week, student activists Milad Assadi, Behareh Hedayat, Majid Tavakkoli, Majid Dorri and Zia Nabavi were all serving lengthy prison sentences imposed solely for their peaceful activism. They and hundreds of other prisoners of conscience in Iran must be released immediately and unconditionally.”

Iran: Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani: A life in the balance