|In Iran, adulterers spared
By N Janardhan
- The Iranian judiciary's decision to suspend the
punishment of death by stoning for adultery is being
hailed as a victory for reformists, but the victory is
not yet complete.
The decision, made in response
to the "demands of modern age" and mounting protests
inside and outside the country, was done by means of
official instructions of the judiciary, apparently
taking its cue from the government.
Iranian majlis, or parliament, has not yet abolished the
punishment by changing the penal code, and an eventual
decision by parliament and the Iranian government is
being closely watched by many.
who control the parliament under the leadership of
President Mohammad Khatami, have been pushing a change
in the execution law. Accordingly, 11 women members of
parliament submitted a bill in early December to the
290-seat legislature to abolish the practice of death by
stoning to punish adultery.
According to Naseeb
Al Saleh, professor of political science at Ajman
University in the United Arab Emirates, "The move to
halt the practice is a victory for reformist MPs who
have been looking to end discrimination against women."
The move comes after pressure from the European
Union, which is engaged in human rights talks linked to
trade negotiations. EU-Iran negotiations, which began in
December, are the most serious Western attempt to engage
Iran since 1979, but the EU has been insisting that Iran
take steps to improve its human rights record.
But member of parliament Jamileh Kadivar denied
that the suspension of death by stoning was related to
talks with the EU, saying, "The head of the judiciary
has sent a ruling to judges telling them not to order
execution by stoning." The judges had been told to issue
alternative punishments and the decision would be upheld
pending a permanent change in the law, she added.
It is unclear if judges are still allowed to
order other forms of execution such as hanging, which is
frequently carried out in public for crimes such as
murder, armed robbery and rape. The EU has been
demanding that Iran end public executions as well.
"Stoning has been provisionally suspended due to
its negative effects, but this suspension is
provisional," said Hojatoleslam Mohsen Gharavian, a
conservative cleric based in the theological base of
Qom, according to the state news agency IRNA. Still,
this top conservative cleric acknowledged that the
practice had been widely criticized and had hurt the
Islamic republic's image abroad.
In line with
the country's political system, he said, it is now up to
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to take a final
decision on whether the punishment used against adultery
should be completely stopped. "If it is in the interests
of Muslims and Islam, it can be suspended for a
determined period by the supreme guide," he was quoted
In Iran's political system, Khamenei
is the final authority on all matters and his
endorsement of all laws passed by the parliament,
including one against stoning, would give it the final
stamp of legality before it is implemented.
Under Iran's strict Islamic law, in place since
the 1979 Islamic revolution, men and women convicted of
adultery are normally sentenced to death by stoning. Men
are buried up to their waists in a pit and women up to
their shoulders. Onlookers are then invited to pelt them
with stones until death. According to the law, the
stones must be big enough to injure but not kill with
just a few blows, which Amnesty International has
described as a "method specifically designed to increase
the victim's suffering". The victim is acquitted if he
or she manages to get out of the pit.
Shariah (Islamic law) ruling on adultery was
incorporated in the 1995 Islamic Penal Code of Iran.
Iranian officials refuse to reveal how often stonings
are carried out. But an Amnesty International 2002
report said at least 139 people, including one minor,
were executed in Iran in 2001, at least two by stoning
and one by beheading. EU diplomats say there was at
least one unconfirmed case in 2002, in which an accused
woman survived by escaping from the pit.
is particularly harsh on women. In accordance with
Shariah law, an act of adultery witnessed by at least
four people is punishable by stoning to death. But women
do not have the same right when dealing with unfaithful
husbands. Unofficial figures put at about 70 the number
of women accused of adultery who have been stoned to
death so far.
These figures place Iran second on
the list of execution capitals of the world, although it
remains far behind China. It is also only one of the
seven countries, including the US, that allows the
execution of people under 18.
But phasing out
death by stoning is unlikely to be easy.
fact that two prominent clerics - Grand Ayatollah
Makarem Shirazi and Ayatollah Musavi Tabrizi - have
spoken out against stoning could facilitate the passage
of the anti-stoning legislation," said Al Saleh, the
professor at Ajman University. "But the Guardians
Council has always adopted a confrontationalist attitude
toward the reformists."
Gholamreza Rezvani, a member of the Guardians Council,
said that there is no substitute for the stoning of
adulterers. According to the Farsi daily Hayat-i No,
Rezvani said that Islamic rulings do not depend on
societal tastes. "Stoning is a sanction for ethical
problems such as adultery and there is no other sanction
for having intercourse with a married person." But
Mohammed Reza Khatami, deputy head of parliament and
brother of Iran's president, told the Women in Iran
magazine that the Koran allows for stoning to be
replaced by other forms of punishment.