On Saturday, August 28th skeptics from Centre for Inquiry Vancouver attended a rally on the south steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery. The rally was in support of Sakineh Ashtiani Mohammadi, the Iranian woman who was sentenced to death by stoning, for the alleged crime of adultery. I say ‘alleged’ not simply because I don’t see adultery as being a crime worth punishing, but also because Ms. Ashtiani has denied the charge several times. The Iranian government, refusing to bother with little things like truth or integrity, staged a bogus confession on live TV. This rally was one of 100 held in cities all over the world, and was a follow-up to a rally I attended on July 24th.
A handful of members of CFI Vancouver were present to show our support for both Ms. Ashtiani and for the international movement opposing stoning. We arrived, spoke with the organizers, and participated in the event. There was a series of speeches, a large petition poster (which we all signed) and a (somewhat disturbing) simulation of a stoning victim. Organizers also handed out postcards destined for the United Nations assembly, demanding that Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad be barred from speaking there in September.
We were asked to say a few words on behalf of CFI, and since I had spoken at the last rally, I volunteered to speak for the organization:
“My name is [Crommunist]. I’m a volunteer with Centre for Inquiry in Vancouver and I’m very happy to represent the Centre for Inquiry at today’s important event to save the life of Sakineh, and to bring awareness of the unconscionable human rights violations in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
“We’ve heard other speakers detail the specifics of this horrible story. What I’d like to do briefly is remind the world that this is not an isolated case of abuse. Iran has been accused of violating multiple international agreements, the most egregious being the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, in its execution of minors. Iran is one of the last countries to engage in the execution of children, accounting for two-thirds of the global total of such executions, and currently Iran has roughly 120 people on death row for crimes committed as juveniles. In one of the most well known cases in 2005, Human Rights Watch brought to light the case of two young boys – 16 year old Moahmoud Asgari and 18 year old Ayaz Marhoni, who were whipped and then hanged supposedly for unidentified sexual offenses, but in reality likely simply for being gay. It’s rather amazing how Iran can violate multiple human rights at once, in this case those of children and gays.
“In 2004 a UN resolution condemned Iran for human rights violations including the execution of children and gays, torture, the persecution of political opponents, discrimination against minorities, and violations of freedom of speech and expression.
“The Centre for Inquiry is deeply concerned about human rights abuses around the world, and we fight for the advent of rational, critical and scientific thinking, coupled with secular humanist ethics of compassion and tolerance and secularism itself, which means church-state separation. Iran is an example of what can go so terribly wrong when the principles and values that we stand for are trampled on in almost every possible way.
“Iran may be among the world’s most extreme examples of how bad a government and society can become when it’s run by a theocracy that has no conception for church-state separation, but it does remind us of why we must fight around the world and right here at home for the continued prioritization of the values of the enlightenment. Those values are rationalism, accountability, freedom of expression, secularism, human rights, an openness to new ideas and a spirit of respect and compassion. These may be abstract and lofty philosophical ideals, but they are given a very human face today by the plight of these victims of stoning.
“The CFI is proud to stand with Iran Solidarity, we are proud to stand against the horrific act of stoning, we are proud to stand with over 100 cities around the world to say with a loud voice ‘we will not tolerate this any more‘.”
This issue is precisely what CFI should be standing up for. Such atrocities can only happen in places where the religious establishment wields control over the secular authority. While I’m not ready to strap on a rifle and charge into Iran to fight the regime, I am happy that I was able to take part in this event, and join people all over the world in showing our opposition to the practice of stoning.
Special thanks go to Justin Trottier of CFI Canada and Jamie Williams of CFI Vancouver for preparing the speech, and to Fred Bremmer for taking the photos.