Campaigning to end stoning in Iran
Eleven people in Iran - nine of them women - are waiting to be stoned to death on charges of adultery. Many have been sentenced after grossly unfair trials. Amnesty International has called on the country's authorities to immediately abolish this grotesque punishment, which is specifically designed to increase the suffering of its victims.
Iran's Penal Code prescribes execution by stoning as the penalty for adultery by married persons. It even dictates that the stones are large enough to cause pain, but not so large as to kill the victim immediately. Amnesty International is calling for urgent changes to Iranian law to ensure that no one can be sentenced to death for adultery, whether by stoning or any other means.
"We welcome recent moves towards reform and reports that the Majles (Iran's parliament) is discussing an amended Penal Code that would permit the suspension of at least some stoning sentences," said Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty International's Middle East Programme.
"But the authorities must go much further, and take the steps needed to ensure that the new Penal Code neither permits stoning to death nor provides for execution by other means for adultery."
Despite official claims that stonings have been halted - including a moratorium issued by the Head of the Judiciary in 2002 - several have taken place, with the latest only last year. Ja'far Kiani, a man, was stoned to death for adultery on 5 July 2007 in the village of Aghche-kand, near Takestan in Qazvin province. There are fears that Mokarrameh Ebrahimi, with whom he had two children, may suffer the same fate. She is in Choubin prison, Qazvin province, apparently with one of their children. A woman and a man are also known to have been stoned to death in Mashhad in May 2006.
The majority of those sentenced to death by stoning are women. Women are not treated equally with men under the law and by courts, and they are also particularly vulnerable to unfair trials because their higher illiteracy rate makes them more likely to sign confessions to crimes they did not commit.
Despite this bleak reality, human rights defenders in Iran believe that international publicity can help bring an end to stoning. Courageous efforts are being made by their Stop Stoning Forever campaign, whose efforts have helped save five people from stoning (and led to another sentence being stayed) since it began in October 2006.
These efforts have come at a price, with campaigners facing harassment and intimidation by the authorities. Thirty-three women, including members of the Stop Stoning Forever campaign, were arrested while protesting in March 2007 about the trial of five women's rights activists in Tehran.
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases. The report issued on 15 January, End executions by stoning, sets out the organisation’s concerns, including for the 11 people currently known to be under sentence of death and awaiting execution by stoning.
"We urge the Iranian authorities to heed our calls, and those of the Iranians who are striving relentlessly to obtain an end to this horrendous practice," said Malcolm Smart.