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Think Tank

A (Temporary) Reprieve From Stoning in Iran

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a woman from Tabriz, Iran, whose sentence of execution by stoning was the subject of an international campaign, has received a reprieve from the Iranian Government. Over the weekend, Iran "temporarily halted" the execution, while still stating that the verdict against Ashtiani would stand, according to CNN. Ashtiani was charged with adultery in 2006, but has since recanted her confession. Iranian authorities, meanwhile, maintain that Ashtiani's crimes were "various and very serious," and that she was guilty of more than just adultery.

Stoning is a particularly brutal form of capital punishment in Iran, as the country's law stipulates that in such an execution the stones should "not be large enough to kill the person by one or two strikes," according to Amnesty International. And there is still some debate on the provenance of the punishment of stoning. Ziba Mir-Hosseini, an Iranian family law expert at London's School of Oriental and African Studies, told CNN last week that "The punishment for any kind of sexual relations (outside of marriage) in the Koran is 100 lashes," which Ashtiani was already subjected to in 2006. She also explains that the Koran also calls for four male witnesses to the actual act of intercourse to give testimony for a conviction whereas in Iran "the standard is 'the judge's knowledge.'"

Paul Barrett, assistant managing editor of Bloomberg Businessweek, told Big Think last week that we should remember, "that people make the religion, not the other way around" and that this event should not serve to besmirch Islam as a whole, but rather to show that the people of Iran will have to "figure out how to overcome a backward-looking authoritarian ruling clique" if they want to avoid such cruel punishments for "adultery." "Many Iranians in Iran clearly yearn for a more modern society," said Barrett. "We should wish the modernists well."

Azar Nafisi, author of "Reading Lolita in Tehran" told Big Think in 2008 that "Men and women are beheaded because of what they call adultery; you know all of this is against not just women (it is) against humanity," calling modern Islamic extremist laws "reactionary." Her comments highlight the fairly recent nature of some more extreme laws in Islamic states; stoning only became an available punishment to Iranian judges with the ratification of the contemporary Islamic Penal Code in 1983.

In another Big Think interview from 2008, Vali Nasr, Professor of International Politics at Tufts University, noted that the "very small minority" of extremists "may be much more important in shaping the laws that govern Iranian society because of the force that they are able to project in the political process.
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