8 September 2010
BBC Sunday Live invited me to join its debate on whether ‘it is right to condemn Iran for stoning’ on 5 September 2010 via webcam. During the debate, the programme allowed only two interventions via webcam (that of Suhaib Hassan of the Islamic Sharia Council and Mohammad Morandi of Tehran University – both of whom were in support of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s stoning and/or execution). I (who had presumably been invited to defend Ms Ashtiani and oppose stoning in the debate) was never given the opportunity to speak.
To the BBC’s Sunday Live Programme
I am writing to ask that you rectify gross inaccuracies regarding Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s case and that of stoning in Iran in your upcoming programme.
Presenter Susanna Reid repeatedly provided misinformation on Sakineh’s case and on the practice of stoning in Iran during the 5 September debate on whether it was ‘right to condemn Iran for stoning.’
The first major inaccuracies were regarding the practice of stoning in Iran.
In the clip preceding the debate, Susanna Reid said that ‘the Iranian government says it is stopping stoning as a punishment for adultery and homosexuality.’ During the debate, she said: ‘Officially the Iranian government does not condone stoning. There has been an official moratorium since 2002. Officially it has been dropped from the penal code.’ Obviously these two statements contradict one another – either the Iranian government has stopped stoning or it is stopping it, but has not yet done so.
In fact, stoning is still part of the penal code. Moreover, despite a 2002 moratorium (which is not the same as officially dropping stoning from its penal code), 19 people have been stoned since and including 2002.
And far from being rare, as Ms Reid stressed on a number of occasions, there have been 150 known cases of death by stoning since 1980 with more than 20 people awaiting death by stoning in Iran right now, including Azar Bagheri who was 15 when she was arrested. The list of those stoned or awaiting death by stoning compiled by the International Committee against Executions can be found here.
Furthermore, contrary to the comments provided by the Islamic Sharia Council, stoning sentences are issued not only when there are four witnesses but also as a result of confession, thus explaining why Ms Ashtiani was forced to ‘confess’ on TV, clearly under duress.
The other important inaccuracy was that Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani has been sentenced to execution for the murder of her husband. This was mentioned a number of times in the programme without providing information to the contrary.
In fact, Ms Ashtiani has been sentenced to death by stoning for adultery and not for murdering her husband. At a 30 July press conference in London, Mina Ahadi of the International Committee against Execution and International Committee against Stoning and I provided evidence of the stoning verdict. You can see a copy of the actual court judgment of stoning for adultery here.
Sakineh has never been found guilty of murdering her husband in an Iranian court. Even the man who was found guilty of her husband’s murder has not been executed. In Iran, under Diyeh laws, the family of the victim can ask for the death penalty to be revoked. Sakineh’s 22 year old son, Sajjad, explains why he and his 17 year old sister spared the man’s life in an interview with French writer and philosopher, Bernard-Henri Levy.
The reason the Islamic regime of Iran is branding her a murderer and denying sentences of death by stoning for adultery is because of the international campaign in her defence and against the medieval and brutal punishment of stoning. It hopes to provide legitimacy for her execution now that it may not be able to stone her because of the public outcry. Unfortunately your programme has done the same.
Given that a woman’s life is at stake, it becomes all the more urgent for your programme to rectify its inaccuracies.
I look forward to your immediate response and action.
You can see an Executive Producer's response and my reply here.
1. The programme can be seen here until next Sunday and begins at 47.00 minutes.
2. Every day from today until next Sunday’s programme, I will write a post addressing other issues raised in the debate, which never received a response.