Katherine Butler: clemency would suit Tehran's interests

Related Topics

An Iranian man who has grown tired of his wife has options. He can divorce her with impunity, but he doesn't even have to go to that much trouble.

Adultery is a capital crime for both sexes, but men can avoid committing it simply by entering into a legal temporary "marriage" with another, or several other women, a figleaf arrangement which can be as short as a few hours' duration. A married woman faces a more brutal prospect if she falls into the arms of another man. If convicted, she can be sentenced not just to the death penalty, but to death by stoning.

The barbaric punishments reserved for Iranian women under laws enshrined in Iran as recently as 1979 barely registered on the international radar until the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani began to be reported earlier this year. If the 43-year-old mother has now been released, and her situation was far from clear last night, her freedom will be rightly hailed by campaigners as a victory for the power of international protest. The Tehran regime operates an impressive internal propaganda machine and filters the internet, so that everything can be depicted as evidence of a conspiracy by Western enemies to destabilise the revolution. But the ruling cabal will nevertheless have been embarrassed by the unwelcome attention the Ashtiani case attracted. Stoning cases are usually kept quiet, even within Iran. It was a sign that the regime was at least rattled when Carla Bruni-Sarkozy was labelled "a prostitute" for adding her support to the campaign against stoning Ashtiani.

Yet, even if Ashtiani's life has been spared, it is unlikely to signal either a relaxation either of the extraordinarily harsh interpretation of Sharia law that the Islamic Republic applies to women, or of the campaign of repression unleashed after last year's elections on those associated with the popular "green" uprising. Tactically, it may be convenient to show clemency now, just as Iran is back in talks with the West on its nuclear programme. The same motivation may explain the release on bail this week of Hossein Derakhshan, a pioneering blogger who was sentenced to 19 years in jail in September as part of a crackdown on the independent media.

But scores of students, dissidents, activists, journalists, lawyers and even clerics who have spoken out in criticism of the hardline regime headed by Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, remain in jail or on death row.

Nasrin Sotoudeh, is one of them. An associate of the Nobel peace prize-winning lawyer Shirin Ebadi, she was detained in September, accused of "acting against national security" and is now on hunger strike. Supporters fear for her life and her case has been taken up by international campaigners. Many others are not lucky enough to be even known about before they are tortured to death or hanged.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Jihadist militants leading away captured Iraqi soldiers in Tikrit, Iraq, in June  

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Robert Fisk
India's philosopher, environmental activist, author and eco feminist Vandana Shiva arrives to give a press conference focused on genetically modified seeds on October 10, 2012  

Meet Vandana Shiva: The deserving heir to Mahatma Ghandi's legacy

Peter Popham
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home