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Death by stoning for Iranian women: the essence of the Islamic Republic


19 July 2010. A World to Win News Service. The news that Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani was about to be executed by stoning stunned and outraged millions of people everywhere.


The 43 year-old widow, a mother of two, was arrested by the Iranian Islamic regime in the northern city of Tabriz in 2005. She was convicted of an "illicit relationship" in May 2006 and received 99 lashes with a whip. Later the authorities opened another investigation against her for the murder of her husband, but in the end she was found guilty of "adultery" instead and sentenced to death. The Supreme Court of the Islamic Republic upheld the verdict. The death sentence for adultery in Islamic Republic is usually carried out by stoning.


In the face of international disgust the Islamic regime had to back down. On 12 July the country's judiciary chief announced that her execution "will not be carried out for the moment." If she is not killed by stoning, this does not reduce the threat of her being executed by other means, such as hanging.


Execution, imprisonment and other kinds of naked suppression have always been mainstays of the Islamic regime, but now particularly after the people’s uprising they are becoming even more central to its rule. According to Amnesty International, last year nearly 390 people were executed in Iran and so far this year  there have been 126 executions. Many of the dead were political prisoners. These numbers do not include people shot dead during the protests, such as Neda Agha Soltan, Sohrab Araabi and Kianoush Asa, or those murdered under torture such as Mohsen Rouholamini and others.


As the June anniversary of the uprising approached, the Islamic regime started another wave of executions to terrify the protesting people. The execution of five political prisoners in Tehran on 10 May was part a series that is still continuing. Hundreds of women, students, workers' leaders and activists have been arrested and tortured in prisons. The prevailing undeclared martial law left little room for the people to continue their protest. The 9th of July, traditionally a day of student protests over the last decade, saw another wave of repression in Tehran, especially in the universities. This time, most leaders and many activists were already in prison. 


In addition, women, who have played a major role in the protests and fighting, have been a specific target of this campaign. The Islamic regime recently launched a "social protection" campaign focused on the dress and behaviour of women. The insistence on stoning Sakineh and other women and the execution of other women prisoners such as Zeinab Jalalian is part of this general reign of terror.


Even according to the Islamic regime, a death sentence requires serious evidence and the unanimous agreement of all the judges ruling in the case. According to her lawyer, Mohammed Mostafaei, neither of these conditions were met in her trial. No evidence was presented, and only three of the five judges found her guilty. But for the Islamic regime, when a poor woman is being tried, that is more than enough. Sakineh's son Sajad, 22, and her daughter, Farideh, 17, say their mother was unjustly accused and already punished for something she did not do. "She's innocent, she's been there for five years for doing nothing." (Guardian, 2 July 2010)


But the most important point is not her "guilt" or "innocence" of "illicit" relations. The whole concept of female "chastity" is a pillar of the subjugation of women. The stoning to death of women for "adultery" (or the mere suspicion that they may have had any kind of relationship whatsoever with men not their husbands or family members) is part of the same package as the compulsory wearing of the hejab (head scarf).


The Islamic regime forged its ideological identity by imposing laws and rules on women, aimed at keeping them subordinate to men as lesser beings living lives restricted by their gender. It has always reserved its most cruel repression for women,  especially those who defy these reactionary laws and the system as a whole. The theocratic state considers any action by a woman not under the control of her masters a threat to the whole social order and the patriarchal and religious ideology that binds it together. This doctrine is a feature of all the major religions.


As a result of the public attention on the sentence against Sakineh and the activity of her children and her lawyer, other families have revealed that there are more women in prisons who have been convicted of adultery and sentenced to death by stoning. Two names, Azar Bagheri, 19, and Mariam Ghorbanzadeh, 25, have already been revealed. And certainly there are more.


Some other reports also indicate some more people are threatened by the unjust and brutal Islamic regime's execution machine. For example,  Gholam-reza Hadadi is one of those awaiting execution, even though he was arrested when he was only 15. So is Zeinab Jalalian, a woman accused of belonging to a Kurdish opposition group. These sentences are a continuation of the Islamic regime's efforts to create an atmosphere of terror and in this way prolong its shameful rule.


The 8 March Women’s Organisation (Iran-Afghanistan) has put out a call to "act immediately to prevent the execution of Zeinab and Sakineh and hundreds of political prisoners. The lives of hundreds are in danger. We should be able to stop the killings of every single one of them by organizing our protests." (zan_dem_iran@,