Published in German weekly magazine “Stern” on 30 July 2010
English translation kindly provided by Elli Mee

Picture of Sakineh Ashtiani, sentenced to death by stoning, displayed by human rights acitivist during a protest in London. © Carl Court/AFP

Sakineh Ashtiani is still under threat of stoning, as the verdict against her has not been lifted. Instead, her lawyer and his relatives are now being prosecuted.

Last Saturday, Mohammad Mostafaei was summoned to Tehran’s Evin prison. The lawyer and human rights activist was interrogated for four hours, partly about a bank account he had set up for his clients. In Iran, it is common practice to obtain pardons by paying blood money to the victims, and these payments are processed via the lawyer’s bank account.

The interrogation marked the beginning of a series of harrassments by the Iranian regime. Mostafaei had barely left Evin prison on Saturday when he received a telephone call: he was told to come back immediately. At the same time, agents of the security forces were trying to arrest him in his office. Since they didn’t find him, they arrested his wife and brother-in-law. Both relatives are still being held in prison – as hostages.

In a telephone call, Mostafaei’s wife told her family that she will only be released if her husband turns himself in to the authorities. Supporters outside Iran have received no news of the lawyer recently. His current state and whereabouts are unknown.

“We want to let him know that he should not report to the authorities under any circumstances”, said Mina Ahadi, president of the International Committee against Stoning. This would be far too dangerous for the well-known human rights advocate who in this case could face many years in prison or even death.

The stoning verdict has not been lifted

The case of Sakineh Ashtiani, an Iranian mother sentenced to stoning, has became known around the world during the past weeks. It was Mina Ahadi who had published a desperate appeal by Ashtiani’s children. Her son Sajad described how he had to attend the public flogging of his mother – a provincial court had sentenced her to 99 lashes for adultery.

Then, a higher court imposed stoning to death, in addition to the first sentence. As Ashtiani’s lawyer, Mostafaei criticized the judgement, calling it arbitrary.

As the details of Ashtiani’s case were published, protests became louder. Apparently, the Iranian regime felt at a loss to explain – in a press release, the Iranian embassy in London declared that the stoning verdict had been adjourned. Moreover, it says, although Iranian law foresees the possibility of stoning, this punishment is “rarely” practiced. However, the organization “Iran solidarity” in London presented a compilation of cases showing that dozens of people were stoned to death in recent years, often in secrecy on remote cemeteries in order to avoid protests.

Ashtiani’s lawyer made it clear that the verdict against Ashtiani can only be lifted by a court – and not by an embassy. This has not happened so far. Iranian state television tried to play down the sentence, claiming that Ashtiani had murdered her husband.

Ashtiani’s letter: “Who can be so cruel?”

But Ashtiani has never been sentenced for murder. Today, at a press conference in London, Mina Ahadi presented the written judgment, in which the court acquitted her of murdering her husband. The stoning sentence was imposed for adultery without witness evidence. Instead, three out of five judges declared that they “believed she had committed adultery”. In Iran, court sentences can be based on the judges’ assessment if important evidence is missing.

In recent days, however, Iranian authorities did not confine themselves to harrassing Ashtiani’s lawyer. Her son’s mobile phone was disconnected, and family members of Mina Ahadi were asked to reveal Ahadi’s address in Germany. Human rights activist Ahadi has received death threats. She says: “The Iranian regime is trying to intimidate us. Likewise, stoning is not a punishment, but a means to terrorize the population.”

Ashtiani wrote a letter from prison in which she thanks her supporters. She also writes that she is afraid of dying, and describes how she was mentally broken when authorities flogged her in front of her son. “When I received the stoning verdict, it felt like I was falling into a deep hole. I fainted. Now I ask myself every night: “Who can be so cruel as to destroy my face and arms with stones? And why?”