Human rights groups and concerned individuals worldwide are demanding an end to stoning executions in Iran – and right now are pressuring the head of the Islamic nation’s judiciary to lift the death sentence against a 34-year-old mother of two young children.
Malak Ghorbany was sentenced to death June 28 by a court in the Iranian city of Urmia after being found guilty of committing “adultery.”
Under Iran’s strict Sharia law, women sentenced to execution by stoning have their hands bound behind their back. They are wrapped from head to toe in sheets before being seated in a pit. The ditch is filled up to their breasts with dirt, and the soil is packed tightly before people assemble to execute the woman by pitching rocks at her head and upper body.
Article 104 of the Iranian Penal Code states that the stones used for execution should “not be large enough to kill the person by one or two strikes, nor should they be so small that they could not be defined as stones.”
Ironically, the court sentenced the woman’s brother Abu Bakr Ghorbany and husband Mohammad Daneshfar to only six years in jail for killing her lover. According to Sharia law, murder carries a lesser penalty than “crimes against chastity.”
Stonings decreased after international pressure on former reformist President Mohammad Khatami in the late ’90s. And Ayatollah Shahroudi, the current head of Iran’s judiciary, issued a ruling to judges ordering a moratorium on execution by stoning in December 2002. But the brutal killings have continued and the practice was never abolished from the penal code of the Islamic Republic. In May, two other women, Abbas Hajizadeh and Mahboubeh Mohammadi, were executed for committing adultery, with more than 100 members of the Revolutionary Guards and Bassij Forces participating in the stoning.
Adding to the voices urging Shahroudi to lift the stoning order, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors this week unanimously passed a resolution urging the U.S. State Department to condemn the impending execution by stoning of two Iranian women, Ghorbany and Ashraf Kolhari.
Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, an Iranian-American, introduced the resolution and brought it to a vote August 15.
Lily Mazahery, president of the Legal Rights Institute in Washington, D.C., had the lead role in drafting the San Francisco resolution, telling WND: “Malak is receiving the penalty of death for having committed ‘adultery,’ which, under the Sharia legal system includes any type of intimate relationship between a girl/woman and a man to whom she is not permanently or temporarily married. Such a relationship does not necessarily mean a sexual relationship. Further, charges of adultery are routinely issued to women/girls who have been raped, and they are sentenced to death.”
The other woman referenced in the resolution, Kolhari, was sentenced to 15 years in Tehran’s Evin prison for allegedly participating in the murder of her husband. Her lawyer, Shadi Sadr, said: “After she was arrested, they obtained a forced ‘confession’ from her, stating that she had been involved in an extramarital affair with the man who had murdered her husband.” This led to a sentence of stoning for adultery as a married woman. The 37-year-old mother had previously filed for divorce, but it was rejected by the court because she has four children.
An Islamic women’s organization, Women Living Under Muslim Laws, announced Aug. 11 that Shahroudi had responded to pleas for Kolhari’s life. The group’s website stated, “We are glad to inform you that we have heard that Ayatollah Shahroudi has acted to stop the execution of Ashraf, the 37-year-old mother of four, who was sentenced to stoning for having had extramarital sex. However, her fate is not yet clear and we urge you to continue writing to the Iranian authorities on her behalf.”
Sadr reportedly encouraged continuous public outcry to ensure Kolahri’s safety. She said, “I am asking you to please continue your efforts and keep your voices loud until we make sure that [Kolhari] is safe.”
However, Ghorbany’s fate remains undecided.
The Islamic regime has officially stayed her execution until a new trial is conducted. Mazahery holds little hope for re-examination of the case, and she intends to put intense international pressure on Shahroudi. She told WND the Islamic regime tries to silence the objections of the international human rights lawyers and organizations by initially caving in and granting a stay of execution until a new trial is set.
“The Islamic regime has been known to say one thing and do exactly the opposite,” Mazahery said. “It is still quite possible that the Islamic regime will schedule a rush sham trial and re-issue the same sentence before we have a chance to take the appropriate legal actions. It is also possible that even with a new trial, Ghorbany would still receive the same sentence or be sentenced to death by public hanging instead.”
Ironically, Iran is a member of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, or ICCPR. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has indicated that treating adultery and fornication as criminal offenses does not comply with international human rights standards. Article 7 of the ICCPR reads, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” And Article 14 guarantees the right “to have legal assistance assigned to (the accused), in any case where the interests of justice so require.”
“In 99 percent of these cases,” Mazahery said, “the accused women have received no legal representation, and because, under the Sharia legal system their testimony is at best worth only half the value of the testimony of men, their so-called ‘trials’ last only a few minutes – after which they are immediately sentenced.”
“There are no scheduled dates for such killings in Iran,” Mazahery told WND. “A prisoner can be executed at any time with little or no notice at all. Needless to say, that makes matters that much more complicated and urgent in these types of cases.”
Her petition to save Ghorbany’s life is rapidly circulating online with more than 9,847 signatures.
“Let us all express our outrage to prevent these barbaric executions,” Mazahery said. “Let us – all of us – take steps to ensure that no innocent woman will ever feel a rope around her neck or any stones launched at her helpless body by the hands of her own peers.”
Mazahery translated a message written in Farsi from Ghorbany, which said: “I am not guilty of a crime. I have only committed an act that is the natural right of every human.”