Somewhere in a cloistered Iranian jail cell, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the 43-year-old mother of two sentenced to death by stoning, awaits the final verdict in her case — and the prognosis is far from hopeful. Her theocratic oppressors, enabled by the so-called Iranian justice system, have just announced that her hearing will take place this coming Saturday, August 21. Mixed messages surround the case, as the Iranian government, at one point, had taken stoning off the table in light of intense international scrutiny. However, the latest reports out of the Islamic Republic confirm that the barbaric sentence still stands. Ashtiani’s fate remains perilous.
If there is an hope for Ashtiani, it is that over the past month she has become an international icon. Her picture, that of a beautiful pale-skinned Iranian woman draped in a black Islamic headscarf, symbolizes the suppressed innocence of so many of the Iranian regime’s victims. Paradoxically, she is one of the fortunate ones. An international public campaign, at the very least, has delayed her death. Had the world not heard about Sakineh, she, too, would have become a silent statistic.
In response, the Iranian regime’s judiciary has stepped up its intimidation. After days of beatings and torture, according to an attorney, Sakineh appeared on the government’s state television Wednesday night and admitted, in what was almost certainly a forced confession, both to adultery and to murdering her husband. With her face completely covered, she admitted to helping her husband’s cousin kill her husband. She then condemned her attorney for publicizing her case.
Apparently, the Iranian government’s modus operandi is not just to protect the fickle laws underlying their establishment; they are avenging a reputation marred by an aggressive public international campaign fueled by her son Sajaad, 22, and her attorney, 31-year-old human rights advocate, Mohammad Mostafaei. Mostafaei fled to Turkey and then to Norway after being interrogated by Iranian authorities for his involvement in the case.
The facts of the case continue to change. The regime is attempting to legitimize their harsh and unfounded ruling, moving attention from an adultery case, where the punishment obviously does not fit the crime, to one about a murder conspiracy. The case has raised eyebrows across the globe. From political leaders to celebrities, dozens of human rights organizations and social media petitions, the case has received more publicity and attention than any in the Islamic Republic’s bloody 30-year history.
The only difference between Sakineh and so many other Iranians is that we have come to know her and her predicament. That is precisely the reason why the regime wants to make an example out of her and continues to dwell on this case. After finding itself in the international spotlight last month, the judiciary committee announced that they would reconsider Sakineh’s case. Yet as they backed down, the government felt strong-armed by what they referred to as “propaganda from the West,” and quickly regret buckling under pressure. They soon announced that they would still consider stoning.
After a tumultuous month of plot shifting, a question mark still lingers over Sakineh’s head, while the government is preoccupied in solving a multi-faceted and complex dilemma — specifically, how to punish Sakineh without appearing cowardly or overly harsh, while simultaneously setting an example for Iranians to never again publicize legal matters in the international community.
News about high-profile cases and their verdicts are always secret so that the government will not be swayed by international opinion. Last year, 388 Iranians were executed, making it second in the world in death sentences only to China.