Initially sentenced for the ‘crime’ of adultery, the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, sentenced to death by stoning in Iran, has recently become the figure of mass media attention. Journalists, bloggers and commentators alike have been writing about the repression of Iranian women under the current regime and the brutality of stoning as a method of execution. While the international community generally agrees that extreme repression of women and the use of stoning are both fundamentally wrong, when it comes to capital punishment, people are generally divided over what is morally right or wrong and the aptness of the death sentence in international law is relentlessly debated.
The British press constantly aim to shock readers, such as by quoting Iranian law which states the exact size of the stone to be used during an execution, “not large enough to kill the person by one or two strikes; nor should it be too small that it cannot be called a stone”. Yet the barbarity of the method takes precedence so often in media coverage that it becomes easy to forget that even ‘advanced’ countries still implement the death penalty. It is rare that these cases ever make international news. Does death by electrocution or by lethal injection in the USA make it more acceptable? Many would argue that it is these more humane methods that prevent the USA being described as ‘medieval’ in still having the death penalty, much the way Iran often is. What is different in Iran is not only the methods of execution that are employed but the very mentality as to why the death sentence should be applied. It is increasingly evident that capital punishment is being used as a method of control, a threat to anyone who is in dissent of their government. Capital Punishment can never be justified; using it as a tool for political gain is just abhorrent.
Around the time of the controversial elections of 2009, Amnesty International noted a surge in the number of executions being performed in Iran, which could be taken as evidence that capital punishment was being used to serve the purpose of scaremongering to quell political unrest, a cause which it should never embody. UN special reporter Philip Aston has said the international consensus against the death penalty except in the most severe of circumstances “is a prohibition that the Iranian courts and the Iranian government have consistently neglected or ignored”.
It is as though the Iranian government believe that the people of Iran have no self control, or do not have the right or even the ability to make their own decisions. Their women must cover their bodies because their men ‘cannot’ control their lusts of the flesh. People cannot protest against ‘fraudulent’ elections such as the one held in 2009, and they are unable to commit illicit adulterous relationships, regardless of whether that relationship involves two consenting adults. It is becoming common for sentences to be issued to individuals who have committed ‘mohabareh’, or “enmity against God”, a vaguely defined offence but one that can be issued with minimum provocation for maximum impact.
Until reforms are made to international law, countries like Iran will continue to not only implement the death penalty, but to utterly take advantage of its irreversible power to breach fundamental human rights.