Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani

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Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani (Azerbaijani: Səkinə Məhəmmədi Aştiani, Persian: سکینه محمدی آشتیانی‎), is an Iranian Azeri woman who has gained the attention of human rights groups and people throughout the world for a conviction of adultery and accompanying sentence of death by stoning.[1][2][3] In 2006, she had been imprisoned under a death sentence in Tabriz, Iran, after being convicted of adultery.[4][5] An international campaign to overturn her sentence is started by her children, Farideh and Sajjad Qaderzadeh, through a letter about their mother's case which is published by Mission Free Iran.[6] Prominent media sources pick up on the news via interviews with her son, which include information on her stoning sentence.[7] The international publicity generated by Ashtiani's situation leads to numerous diplomatic conflicts between Iran's government and the heads of certain western governments. As a result, her execution has been stayed indefinitely.[8] Shortly after the international campaign begins, various Iranian officials state that Ashtiani is also guilty of various charges related to the murder of her husband. The range of charges includes murder, manslaughter,[9] conspiracy,[10] and complicity.[11] However, major human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, some NGOs and her lawyers have stated that Ashtiani was acquitted of murder, and that she initially received a 10-year sentence for complicity in murder and "disrupting the public order". It was reduced to 5 years on appeal. She was convicted twice of adultery in separate trials and sentenced to death by stoning. [12][13][14]

As of January 2011, her stoning sentence has been "suspended", and she remains in prison in Tabriz, Iran. It is unclear how long she will remain, although she may remain there until her original sentence of 10 years in prison is completed.[15]

In December 2011 the Iranian authorities indicated that they intend to go ahead with her execution, but by hanging.[16] However, the hanging was not carried out, and Iranian officials afterwards denied that they intended to execute her.
On 24 July 2012, Amnesty International stresses that Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani's fate is still unclear, while her former lawyer Javid Houtan Kiyan languishes in jail.[17]

In March 2014 Ashtiani was pardoned for good behavior and released from prison.[18]

Adultery Law in Iran[edit]

The civil and criminal law (the Islamic Penal Code) is determined by Iran's Parliament (known as Majlis), and it must conform to and not contradict Sharia law. The law states that unmarried adulterers will receive 100 lashes, and married adulterers will be sentenced to death by stoning. However, it demands heavy proof requirements. To be convicted, the person either must confess to the crime, have 4 witnesses testify against him/her, or in some rare cases, the judges may use circumstantial evidence. If the person is repentant, the judge can give a reduced sentence of 99 lashes. In addition, the person may also spend 1 year in prison. Due to the high proof requirements, convictions for adultery are relatively rare, and even when they occur, the death sentence for that crime is almost never given, except in serious cases such as when the spouse died (which is what occurred in Ashtiani's case). It is to be noted that the maximum punishment for adultery in the Qu'ran was 100 lashes.

In 2002, Iran had put a moratorium on stoning to death (although some were still carried out). In January 2012, Iran officially changed its law, saying that adultery could be punished by hanging, rather than stoning, possibly ending that punishment in Iran.


Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is an Azeri Iranian woman born ca. 1968 in the rural town of Osku, East Azerbaijan Province, Iran.[19] Sakineh worked outside her home for two years as a kindergarten teacher.[17][20][21]

Legal proceedings[edit]

Original proceedings[edit]

In 2005 Ebrahim Qaderzadeh, Ashtiani's husband, aged 44, was murdered by electrocution by his cousin Isa Taheri.[22]

Ashtiani has allegedly committed adultery with the man (Isa Taheri) who murdered her husband, as well as a second unknown man.[23]

Taheri and Ashtiani are arrested as suspects, and according to some sources, Sakineh is accused of committing adultery by the wife of one of her late husband's coworkers. On May 15, 2006 Sakineh pleads guilty of having had an "illicit relationship outside marriage" with another man (court records show it was not Taheri, but another person).[24][25] The court handed down a punishment of 99 lashes; her son watched the whipping.[26] In addition, she may have received 1 year in prison as well.

[23] In his trial, Taheri is found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. Under Islamic law, murderers can be forgiven and pay blood money (diyya) to the victim's family, or the family can demand retribution (qisas) and have the murderer executed. Sajjad Qaderzadeh, Ashtiani's son, forgave Taheri, accepted blood money, and he was sentenced to 10 years in prison.[23][27] According to some sources, he has been later freed and is no longer in prison.

In September 2006, her murder case comes to trial as well. While she is not found guilty of the actual murder (since she did not physically kill her husband and the murderer was forgiven), she is given 10 years in prison for complicity in murder and disrupting the public order, equal to Taheri's sentence. It was later reduced to 5 years in prison upon appeal.[28] She is also brought to trial again for adultery. Her son Sajjad Qaderzadeh states that he was unaware of this new trial, and she has been convicted for adultery previously, making this new trial "illegal". However, this trial may have been for adultery committed with Taheri, rather than a "second man", as records from her previous trial seem to indicate. This time, the court intends to sentence her to death, because of her alleged role in her husband's murder. Ashtiani recants a previous confession and pleads "not guilty".[29] Out of the 5 ruling judges, only 3 find her guilty, the other 2 saying while they do not doubt her guilt, since she has been previously convicted of adultery, she should not be punished again.

Due to the 3-2 majority vote, she is sentenced to death by stoning for adultery.[30] Ashtiani may have had difficulty understanding the case[31][32] because she speaks Azeri and not Persian.[33] Malek Ejdar Sharifi, head of East Azerbaijan Province's judiciary said, "She was sentenced to capital punishment... for committing murder, manslaughter and adultery."[34][not in citation given] However, according to advocacy group Mission Free Iran, this is contrary to the documentation on Ashtiani's case.[35] Iran's Supreme Court confirmed her death sentence in 2007. Her appeal was denied, as was her request for clemency by the "Amnesty and Pardons Commission" of Iran.[27]

Renewed developments[edit]

In mid-2010 Ashtiani became the subject of an international campaign, prompting renewed developments in her case.

The Press Section of the Iranian Embassy in London issued the following statement on July 8, 2010:

"Considering the statements made by the Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt on an Iranian national, Mrs Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, and her execution, hereby this mission denies the false news aired in this respect and notifies the Ministry that according to information from the relevant judicial authorities in Iran, she will not be executed by stoning punishment."[36]

By July 9, 2010, the Iranian government ban reporters in Iran from reporting on any details of the case.[37] One of her lawyers, Mohammed Mostafaei, flees the country when he is charged with "financial fraud". Mostafaei states that he is being harassed for defending his client, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, as well as other clients.[38][39] Mostafaei seeks asylum internationally, first in Turkey, and then Norway, where he is reunited with his family on September 2, 2010.[40]

On August 4, 2010, the Iranian authorities tell Ashtiani's new lawyer, Houtan Kian, that she faces death by hanging.[41] On the same day, Tehran's High Court rejects a reopening of the trial and instead considers the Tabriz prosecutor's demand to execute Ashtiani. Her case is subsequently transferred to the deputy prosecutor-general Saeed Mortazavi. Ashtiani's son is told that the file on his father's murder case has been lost. Her son adds that "they are lying about the charges against my mother. She was acquitted of murdering my father but now the government is building up their own story against her".[42] Her son's statement is contradicted by numerous Iranian news accounts describing her as being convicted of both complicity in murder and adultery, although those reports may not be accurate.[43][44]

On August 12, 2010 Ashtiani is televised from Tabriz prison on an Iranian state-run television program which shows her confessing in native Azerbaijani language to adultery and involvement with the murder of her husband once again. Her lawyer alleges she has been tortured for two days prior to the interview.[33]

On August 28, Ashtiani is given the 24-hour notice that she is to be hanged at dawn the next day. She writes her last will and testament just before the call to morning prayer at 4:00 AM local time, when she expects to be led to the gallows at Tabriz Prison. However the sentence is stayed. It may have been a mock execution.[42]

Suspension of the stoning sentence[edit]

On September 8, 2010, Ramin Mehmanparast, a spokesman for Iran's Foreign Ministry, confirms that the government has suspended the stoning sentence, pending a review of her husband's murder case.[citation needed] Mehmanparast adds [clarification needed] that she is guilty of both adultery and murder and that her case is undeserving of the international attention it has drawn. He says that releasing murderers should not be made into a human rights issue and calls on countries criticising Iran to release all their murderers as well.[45] According to the human rights organisation Iran Human Rights, Ashtiani remains in danger of capital punishment by hanging.[46]

Iran Human Rights also expresses concerns over Mehmanparast's statement about "Sakineh's murder charge being investigated for the final verdict". Commenting on this statement, the spokesperson of Iran Human Rights, Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, says: "The fact that the authorities are mentioning murder charges now could mean that Ashtiani is in danger of being sentenced to death for murder". But Iranian authorities indicate that Ashtiani is "held in the prison of Tabriz and in perfect health."[47]

Her son is arrested in October 2010, after speaking to two German reporters, who had entered the country on tourist visas.[48][49] He is released on $40,000 bail in December.[48] On January 1, 2011, he is shown on television admitting he did not doubt his mother was guilty... but urges Iranian authorities to let her live.[48][50] He also says it is unfair that Isa Taheri is free.[48][51] But Press TV reports that, according to the Human Rights Headquarters of the Iranian Judiciary, the deceased husband's "next of kin waived their right to retribution" (see diyya and qisas); as a consequence, Taheri has been handed down a 10-year discretionary jail term.[23]

There have been some cases of political prisoners confessing on live television under torture or extreme pressure in Iran. It is not clear certain if this was such a case or not.


In March 2014 Mohammad-Javad Larijani, the Islamic regime’s Secretary General for Human Rights, announces that Sakineh Ashtiani has been pardoned, due to good behavior.[18][52][53]

International campaign[edit]

Mrs. Ashtiani's two children began a campaign to overturn their mother's conviction. In June 2010, they wrote a letter to the world asking for help to save their mother, which was then first published on June 26, 2010, by Mission Free Iran's International Committee against Stoning.[54] The letter brought widespread attention in 2010 as a result of grassroots campaigning through social networking sites that led to the letter's being passed along to mainstream mass media.[citation needed]

During July 2010, protests occurred in Rome, London and Washington, D.C., among other cities.[55][56] Calls to stop her execution came from leading human rights groups Avaaz, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch as well as from several high-profile celebrities.[57][58][59][60] A petition was created in support of her release, and has been signed by several additional prominent activists.[61]

On July 31, 2010, the president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, said he would ask the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to send Mrs. Ashtiani to Brazil, where she would be granted asylum.[62] According to the Brazilian Foreign Ministry, the Brazilian ambassador in Tehran was directly instructed to communicate their asylum proposal to the Iranian government.[63] Iranian officials responded by suggesting that Lula had "not received enough information about the case".[64] U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton mentioned Mrs. Ashtiani in a declaration on August 10, 2010, urging Iran to respect the fundamental freedoms of its citizens.[65]

In late August 2010, the Iranian newspaper Kayhan called Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, the First Lady of France, a "prostitute" who "deserved death" after she condemned the stoning sentence against Mrs. Ashtiani.[66][67] Iranian officials condemned this statement and[68] Ahmadinejad condemned Kayhan's comments toward Mrs. Bruni-Sarkozy's as a "crime" and "against Islam" .[69]

A resolution by the European Parliament on September 8, 2010, declared that "a sentence of death by stoning can never be justified". The vote passed by a margin of 658–1, the sole vote against having been made in error and later rectified, according to the Associated Press.[70] On September 29, 2010, EveryOne Group, a human rights organisation based in Italy, appealed to the Iranian Authorities for an act of compassion for Mrs. Ashtiani.[71]

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]