Joan Smith: Iran's barbarity that must be resisted

Accounts of systematic beatings and rape are almost too harrowing to read. But weirdly, Ahmadinejad's regime continues to have apologists

Share
Related Topics

Tyrants and dictators are frequently more sensitive about bad publicity than you might expect. International campaigns to save individuals from torture and execution sometimes end happily, although some regimes – China, Burma and Iran come to mind – are more intransigent than most. For two months now, the international community has been trying to save Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning, with little evidence thus far of any second thoughts on the part of the Iranian authorities.

Earlier this week the French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, offered to fly to Tehran to plead for Ms Ashtiani's release, adding his name to an impressive list of politicians, human rights campaigners and celebrities who have rallied to her cause. The French government hopes that the European Union will agree a common position on her case by the end of the week, while the British Foreign Office says that "her suffering is front and centre in our minds".

The Iranian government has already turned down an offer from President Lula da Silva of Brazil to offer asylum to Ms Ashtiani; according to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranian women are "the freest in the world", a claim that speaks volumes about the nature of his regime. Obviously international pressure must be kept up, but this thoroughly justified international outrage has not so far spared Ms Ashtiani from further punishment. The most recent reports from Tabriz, where she has been in prison for four years, are alarming: she has been flogged for a second time, according to her son and her lawyer, and may face execution by stoning as early as the end of this week.

Ms Ashtiani has not been allowed visits for almost a month, and her supporters discovered from former cellmates that she had been sentenced to 99 lashes for "spreading corruption and prostitution" after The Times published an unveiled photograph of a woman it mistakenly believed to be her. Even more worrying is the fact that she was given confirmation of her death sentence on 28 August, and was told that it would be carried out the following day. It wasn't – such terror tactics are characteristic of the regime – but her supporters fear that she might be killed after Ramadan ends on Friday.

In 2008, Iran's judiciary announced a moratorium on executions by stoning, following an outcry about such barbaric sentences, but that did not prevent two men being stoned to death on 26 December that year. The International Committee Against Stoning believes that the real figures are much higher: they say that 109 people have been stoned to death in Iran and 25 are awaiting execution by lapidation. What is known for certain is that Iran had the highest per-capita execution rate in the world in recent years, with at least 320 people executed in 2008 alone, including a mass hanging of 29 victims. As well as a variety of criminal offences, adultery – one of the "charges" against Ms Ashtiani – and same-sex relations carry the death penalty.

Last month, she was forced to go on a state-run television programme and "confess" to adultery and involvement in her husband's murder; her lawyer said she was tortured for two days before the interview was recorded in Tabriz prison. Such "confessions" are not unusual in Iran, which uses accusations of "illicit" sexual relationships to discredit people the regime doesn't like.

Nor are threats of imminent execution unusual, according to former political prisoners I've interviewed; an Iranian editor told me he lived in fear for a whole year after being sentenced to death in Tehran's notorious Evin prison. He also said his spirits lifted each time he heard about foreign demonstrations in his support, even though they led to savage beatings from his guards. He was eventually taken to Tehran airport and hustled on to a plane to Germany, where he needed medical treatment for a broken jaw and other injuries.

Of course Ms Ashtiani isn't a political activist; she's a woman who happens to have fallen foul of the harsh and unjust punishments handed down by a theocratic regime. Her case has at least received international attention, unlike many of the protesters who were rounded up following last year's hotly disputed presidential election. Some of them emerged from prison weeks or months later with horrific stories of torture and repeated rape, but many were too fearful and traumatised to speak out about what had happened to them.

A book published under a pseudonym – Death to the Dictator! Witnessing Iran's Election and the Crippling of the Islamic Republic by Afsaneh Moqadam – tells the story of one protester, an idealistic young man who hadn't previously been involved in politics. Its account of the systematic beatings and rape he suffered is almost too harrowing to read.

Weirdly, Ahmadinejad's regime continues to have apologists. They claim that Iran is a democracy, ignoring the fact that an unelected Council of Guardians has the power to veto all legislation and disqualify election candidates from reformist parties; in 2005, more than a thousand candidates were barred from standing. They even encourage Ahmadinejad to stand up to "bullying" over Iran's nuclear programme, unconcerned by the prospect of this rogue regime obtaining nuclear weapons. (I'm not a fan of Tony Blair, but the fact that he's worried about Iran's nuclear aspirations isn't a reason why the rest of us should regard them with equanimity.)

In fact, there's reason to think that Iran's nuclear programme is so important to the regime precisely because it has so little else to boast about. The economy is in poor shape – inflation reached 30 per cent in 2009 – and last year's demonstrations exposed the profound unpopularity of the clerical regime. Young Iranians are desperate to emigrate to Western countries they've supposedly been taught to hate, and no one knows when unrest will flare up again.

Ahmadinejad's regime isn't going to collapse in the immediate future. But behind his fearsome rhetoric is a theocracy that fears its days are numbered. What kind of regime flogs a 43-year-old woman and threatens to stone her to death? The appalling treatment of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is a testament to the regime's weakness, not its strength.

www.politicalblonde.com

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Projects Financial Analyst - Global Technology firm

£55000 - £62000 per annum + outstanding benefits and bonus: Pro-Recruitment Gr...

Reception Teacher

£120 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Reception teacher required for an Outs...

Commercial B2B Pricing Specialist - Global Bids and Tenders

£35000 - £45000 per annum + excellent company benefits : Pro-Recruitment Group...

DT Teacher - Food Technology

£90 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: The Job We are currently recr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor’s Letter: The political arms race is underway

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
 

Common sense and cars don’t always mix

Hamish McRae
Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home

It's not always fun in the sun: Moving abroad does not guarantee happiness

Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home
Migrants in Britain a decade on: They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire

Migrants in Britain a decade on

They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire
Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

The 'Thick of It' favourite thinks the romcom is an 'awful genre'. So why is he happy with a starring role in Sky Living's new Lake District-set series 'Trying Again'?
Why musicians play into their old age

Why musicians play into their old age

Nick Hasted looks at how they are driven by a burning desire to keep on entertaining fans despite risking ridicule
How can you tell a gentleman?

How can you tell a gentleman?

A list of public figures with gallant attributes by Country Life magazine throws a fascinating light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

The duo behind Asos and Achica have launched a new venture offering haute couture to help make furry companions fashionable
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire
Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

Celebrate St George’s Day with a nice cup of tea. Now you just need to get the water boiled
Sam Wallace: Why Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term

Sam Wallace

Why Ryan Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term
Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

Having smashed Sergei Bubka's 21-year-old record, the French phenomenon tells Simon Turnbull he can go higher
Through the screen: British Pathé opens its archives

Through the screen

British Pathé opens its archives
The man behind the papier mâché mask

Frank Sidebottom

The man behind the papier mâché mask
Chris Marker: Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

Chris Marker retrospective is a revelation
Boston runs again: Thousands take to the streets for marathon as city honours dead and injured of last year's bombing

Boston runs again

Thousands of runners take to the streets as city honours dead of last year
40 years of fostering and still holding the babies (and with no plans to retire)

40 years of fostering and holding the babies

In their seventies and still working as specialist foster parents