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


. 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


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


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