January 2, 2011

What century are we in? - Part Two: Iran

Scene from the movie The Stoning of Soraya M. (a true story)

Some months ago, I wrote an article titled "Saudi Arabia - What century are we in here?" It was about the Saudis sentencing a Lebanese television personality to death for the crime of witchcraft. Yes, witchcraft - you cannot make this stuff up.

Continuing in my "Iran obsession*" series, I now ask the same question about Iran.

Only public outcry has saved a woman from being executed by stoning in the Islamic Republic. A court in Tabriz sentenced an Azeri woman convicted of adultery to 99 lashes, which she received. Later, she was accused of complicity in the murder of her husband, but was acquitted. After the acquittal, the judge re-sentenced her for her earlier crime of adultery, this time imposing the sentence of death by stoning.

To gain a perspective on just how brutal this method of execution is, I recommend the movie The Stoning of Soraya M. (available at
Netflix or Blockbuster [watch trailer]). The movie is based on a true story. Soraya Manutchehri was stoned to death in Iran in 1986.

Stoning as a punishment did not exist in Iran until 1983, when the current Islamic penal code was ratified. Stoning is legal punishment for consensual adultery between married adults. Unmarried sex partners normally receive sentences of 99 lashes. Is this what the Iranian people wanted when they overthrew the Shah and brought in the ayatollahs?

Following international outcries over stoning after the establishment of the Islamic Republic, the government allegedly placed a moratorium on the practice in 2002. Despite that, it is believed that scores of men and women have been stoned to death. Women tend to be stoned more often as the burden of proof for adultery is always on the woman, regardless whether the accused is the husband or wife. In other words, the wife must prove herself innocent or prove her husband guilty.

After the release of the movie in 2008, the Iranian Islamic judiciary submitted a new penal code to the legislature (Islamic Consultative Assembly). The new code has never been ratified and stoning remains on the books. Until the new penal code is adopted, we will continue to hear stories of stoning in Iran.

In the words of a close friend who lives in the region, "What a country."

* A reader recently accused me of being obsessed with Iran. I am, with good reason. See my article, Obsessed with Iran? Me?