Letter to Mina Ahadi and all those campaigning for Sakine from her son

To Mrs. Ahadi, her colleagues, and all of those who in the USA, Germany and other countries who have endeavored to help those convicted on political grounds: Accept my greetings and gratitude.

I who write this letter, Sajjad Ghader-zade, 22 years old, want to first of all tell you about my mother and the way she was convicted.

My mother, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, was arrested in the city of Oskoo on charges of adultery. She was prosecuted in the Oskoo criminal court. My mother and Mr. Naser and Mr. Ali Nojumiha were each sentenced to 99 lashes there, and the sentences were fully served at the executive office on everyone convicted in this case. Then as to why the case was sent to Branch VI of Eastern Azerbaijan retribution court in Tabriz for review, I have no idea. Here my mother’s case was reviewed by five judges, after which Mr. Imani, the head of Branch VI, and two of his colleagues, based on their own wisdom sentenced my mother to death by stoning, while two others found my mother innocent of the charges and stated this verdict clearly. Mr. Mostafayi (Sakineh’s lawyer) says there are a lot of uncertainties and doubts in this case. Mr. Mostafayi refers to two judges in the panel who clearly stated that there was neither evidence nor legal grounds whatsoever in the file to sentence Mrs. Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, and the existing indications and evidence could not provide basis for any assumptions by the panel, and one accused should not stand trial twice on the same charge. The case was then sent to the Supreme Court, which unfortunately upheld the sentence. This was a summary of the case but I want to point out other uncertainties regarding the case. We have traveled more than 6 times to Tehran to visit Mr. Larijani, or Khamenei, or Ahmadi-Nezhad, and written more than a hundred times to them but have not received any response, so I have no option but reaching out to them this way. I want to ask the country’s authorities a few questions and hope they hear me.

First of all: Mr. Larijani! Why has an accused have been twice prosecuted on the same charge while even according to the Islamic criminal law a convict should be prosecuted for a crime once and not more than once?

Second: Mr. Larijani! You are the head of the country’s judiciary, how come the country’s judges do not take your orders seriously? Mr. Shahrudi had, in an amendment, ordered the country’s judges to ban stoning sentences, yet contrary to this order, judges still issue stoning sentences. Why, in our case for instance, did Mr. Imani, despite lack of evidence and proof, issue my mothers’ stoning sentence? If he is motivated by his wisdom, I must ask what the basis for that wisdom is. If he is demonstrating his wisdom, was Mr. Imani present when my mother committed the crime against which he issues a verdict with such decisiveness?

Third: When Mr. Mostafayi, via Mehr media outlet, interviewed Mr. Yusefi, the general director of Oskoo’s provincial justice department, the latter claimed that there was no sentence served in this case in Oskoo’s jurisdiction, but I was present when this was done. I ask the head of justice department why a judge like Yusefi, who himself issued a sentence, denies the execution of his own verdict?

These are three questions which should be answered. But I, as an Iranian citizen who has not succeeded to get an audience with your office, to you, the head of the judiciary, who through the TV networks day in and out announces that justice must prevail and the officials guilty of misconduct will be punished, say that there is no justice in this country, and your justice is only as just as the misconduct of judges of the country who are not corrected by you. I ask you: Has justice been served in my mother’s case? Can you answer to these three questions?

I ask you to send the letter of my mother’s pardon to Tabriz and return my mother’s life back to her. I hope that you see to it that justice in my mother’s case prevails, for thanks to your judges’ wisdom, my mother is in a bad psychological state, and in 5 whole years has been imprisoned without a day of permission [ed note – a day of leave from the prison].

I have now said all that should have been said; my mother and I are asking the people of the world to help us, and are deeply grateful for what has been done thus far.

Many thanks,
Sajjad Ghader-Zadeh

We must not let them stone her!

The Islamic regime of Iran will decide on Sakine Mohamadi Ashtiani’s stoning case on Saturday 10 July. Even though the sentence was final and her stoning imminent, they will be meeting to discuss it given the public outrage and condemnation.

You can help by keeping the pressure on. Here are a few things you can do:

Sign the petition.

Send messages of protest to the Islamic regime of Iran:
Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani
Head of the Judiciary of the Islamic Republic of Iran
Howzeh Riyasat-e Qoveh Qazaiyeh (Office of the Head of the Judiciary)
Pasteur St., Vali Asr Ave., south of Serah-e Jomhouri, Tehran 1316814737, Islamic Republic of Iran
(Put given name in first starred box, family name in second starred box, and email address in third. Paste appeal in large box)

Put pressure on other governments to condemn the stoning and urge Sakine’s release.

Take stones to public places and leave them there with messages of solidarity for Sakine and against stoning.

Here is some background information on her case:
Guardian article, which quotes Mina Ahadi of the International Committee against Stoning.

Letter from Sakine’s two children calling for public support.

We must not – will not – let them stone her.

On 11 July place stones in public places with messages against stoning

11 July is the International Day against Stoning – a day we would do well to mark especially given that Sakine Mohammadi Ashtiani faces imminent death by stoning for adultery.

During the week of 5-11 July, take stones to your city centres, universities, workplaces, and put them in a public place, with a message in support of Sakine and against stoning and executions. Ask people to send letters of protest and sign the petition opposing it. Send in any photos to be included on the Iran Solidarity blog.

Let’s end this once and for all.

BTW, here is a photo of an act Maryam Namazie had done a while back when Sakine was first sentenced:

Juvenile offender faces execution in Iran on 6 July


See the latest video of Mohammadreza’s father explaining that he has been given notice to visit his son for the last time as he is to be executed in Adel Abad prison in Shiraz this Tuesday July 6th 2010 (Tehran time).

Normally executions are carried out early in the morning which means there is just over 24 hours to take action.

His father says that at the time of the offence (see below), Mohammad Reza was 3 months shy from his 15th birthday. His father has told news reporters that Mohammad Reza’s sister had set herself on fire from the anguish of knowing that her brother could be executed. She is crippled for life and she is in hospital. Their mother has been seriously ill for quite some time. It is a real tragedy for the entire family.

After reading the background scroll down on the page and see how you can help.

Stop Child Executions

Join global day of action against Sakine’s stoning today

On 2 July come out wherever you are against stoning and the death penalty and demand Sakine Mohammadi Ashtiani’s release.

See the below CNN report on her imminent stoning, which quotes Mina Ahadi. As an aside, in the below reportm the US State Department says that the punishment does not fit the crime! As if any crime deserves the death penalty. But that is the response you can expect from governments that commit state sponsored murder.

End the death penalty now!

By Moni Basu, CNN
July 2, 2010 — Updated 0043 GMT (0843 HKT)

Sakineh Ashtiani was sentenced to death on adultery charges
Mother of two will be killed using a “barbaric” method, says her Tehran lawyer
He says she was forced to confess under duress

(CNN) — Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani, a mother of two, is waiting to die in Iran by a method of execution described by her lawyer as “barbaric” — stoning.

She will be buried up to her chest, deeper than a man would be, and the stones that will be hurled at her will be large enough to cause pain but not so large as to kill her immediately, according to an Amnesty International report that cited the Iranian penal code.

The 42-year-old woman from the northern city of Tabriz was convicted of adultery in 2006, and her execution is imminent, said prominent human rights lawyer Mohammad Mostafaei.

Ashtiani was forced to confess after being subjected to 99 lashes, Mostafaei said Thursday in a telephone interview from Tehran.

She later retracted that confession and has denied wrongdoing. Her conviction was based not on evidence but on the determination of three out of five judges, Mostafaei said. She has asked forgiveness from the court but the judges refused to grant clemency.

Iran’s supreme court upheld the conviction in 2007.

Mostafaei believes a language barrier prevented his client from fully comprehending court proceedings. Ashtiani is of Azerbaijani descent and speaks Turkish, not Farsi.

The circumstances of Ashtiani’s case make it not an exception but the rule in Iran, according to Amnesty International, which tracks death penalty cases around the world.

“The majority of those sentenced to death by stoning are women, who suffer disproportionately from such punishment,” the human rights group said in a 2008 report.

On Wednesday, Amnesty made a new call to the Iranian government to immediately halt all executions and commute all death sentences. The group has recorded 126 executions in Iran from the start of this year to June 6.

“The organization is also urging the authorities to review and repeal death penalty laws, to disclose full details of all death sentences and executions and to join the growing international trend towards abolition,” the statement said.

In Washington, the State Department criticized the scheduled stoning, saying it raised serious concerns about human rights violations by the Iranian government.

“We have grave concerns that the punishment does not fit the alleged crime,” Assistant Secretary of State P.J. Crowley said Thursday. “For a modern society such as Iran, we think this raises significant human rights concerns.”

Calling Iran’s judicial system “disproportionate” in its treatment of women, Crowley said, “From the United States’ standpoint, we don’t think putting women to death for adultery is an appropriate punishment.”

Human rights activists have been pushing the Islamic government to abolish stoning, arguing that women are not treated equally before the law in Iran and are especially vulnerable in the judicial system. A woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man.

Article 74 of the Iranian penal code requires at least four witnesses — four men or three men and two women — for an adulterer to receive a stoning sentence, said Mina Ahadi, coordinator for the International Committee Against Stoning. But there were no witnesses in Ashtiani’s case. Often, said Ahadi, husbands turn wives in to get out of a marriage.

Mostafaei said he could not understand how such a savage method of death could exist in the year 2010 or how an innocent woman could be taken from her son and daughter, who have written to the court pleading for their mother’s life.

The public won’t be allowed to witness the stoning, Mostafaei said, for fear of condemnation of such a brutal method. He is hoping there won’t be an execution.

Mostafaei, who himself did jail time in the aftermath of the disputed presidential elections in June 2009, said he realizes the risk of speaking out for Ashtiani, for fighting for human rights. But he doesn’t let that deter him.

He last saw Ashtiani five months ago behind bars in Tabriz. Since then, he said, he has been searching for a way to save her from the stones.

On the distinction between Islam and Islamism

On the One Law for All website’s comments section, Kinana writes in response to another:

Thanks for your reply and general agreement (first sentence). As to your next sentence I also agree that Muslims ‘should’ remove the bits of their religion which offend or are not compatible with the ‘modern context.’ This seems to bring us back to my point and the point being made by Dave and Brigitte. Is Islam okay and Islamism not?

Islam is not what we want it to be or even what so-called moderate Muslims want it to be. It is what you and I have agreed it actually is. Given this starting point it behooves us and the OLFA campaign to not soft-pedal the truly difficult task of confronting Islam in reality and avoid ambiguous terms like ‘Islamism.’ The teachings and texts of Islam simply do not allow for the umma to change Islam, to ‘cherry pick’ the teachings. The foundational texts do not allow it, nor do the ‘rightly guided Caliphs’, nor do the 4 major schools of the 11th – 13th centuries.

Campaigns like this one which refuses to place the problem squarely with Islam and instead blame something called ‘Islamism’ do a disservice to the wider public who are looking to understand events like 9/11 and 7/7.

I feel that a more accurate approach would be to say that each Muslim has their own understanding of Islam which may or may not be compatible within the modern context, but that Islam per se, as we agreed, is not compatible. I too look forward to the day that Islam is actually reformed and updated, and this new Islam is actually believed in by ALL Muslims forever after.

Until then: One Law for All and no Sharia!

Here’s my response:

The issue is not whether Islam is okay and Islamism is not. Islam like all religions must be open to criticism and ridicule. I myself am an atheist and personally think that we need to go further than the secularisation of society and call for de-religionisation of society – separating it from the public space and a citizen’s identity and ensuring that it is truly a private affair. That’s not the case even in many secular societies today and especially not in Britain. Religious groups still get charity status and tax exemptions and are allowed exemptions from for example the sexual orientation regulations in order to discriminate based on their beliefs! Whilst people have the right to religion and belief, that doesn’t mean that we cannot challenge or criticise their beliefs. It becomes particularly important to do so when a political movement like Islamism holds religion as its banner. These are all things I have campaigned on for many years. I think particularly freedom of expression is most important and needed when criticising that which is taboo and sacred – and that means first and foremost religion. You can see my argument on this here.

Having said all this, though, the distinction between Islamism and Islam is not a cop-out as you seem to imply. If you fail to see the distinction, you fail to understand where the problem lies and cannot resist it properly. If you believe the problem is first and foremost Islam (and not religion in general, which is the far Right’s attitude to this), then you begin to come up with nonsensical, inhuman and racist recommendations like calling for the banning of the Koran, saying Islam is not a religion, scapegoating Muslims and calling for an end to ‘Muslim immigration’ whatever that means. Some of the speakers at our 20 June rally said it well. Muslims have been here for many years (as has Islam for that matter) – it is only recently that there is pressure on women to go to Sharia courts – it wasn’t required of them thirty years ago. The difference today from thirty years ago is Islamism. Islam as a religion hasn’t changed – its influence has. The same applies to your examples of 9/11 or 7/7. That is why I compare it to the Christian inquisition or crusades. The Bible has not changed today – or it wasn’t banned in order to push it back; Christianity only seems cuddlier today because it has been pushed back by the enlightenment. In my opinion, a ‘reformed religion’ is one that has been pushed out of the public space and backed into a corner.

Whilst Islamism is holding a sword over people’s heads, you don’t seem to understand that it is not so easy for Muslims to pick and choose, leave Islam, think freely, and so on. And when they do – as many still do – it entails great risks. Just as risky as it was for apostates and free thinkers during the Christian inquisition. Of course Islam is not compatible with modern society but neither is any religion – the reason why you think Christianity is compatible is thanks to the enlightenment and not because Christianity is any better than Islam. You can pick and choose today because you don’t live under the inquisition. Of course to each his own belief. That’s one of the problems with religion isn’t it – your religion is always better than the others. Fine – not a problem if the religion in question has no political power. Then it is just an opinion. It’s the difference between the bigot who thinks gays are perverts and a state that will hang gays for their sexuality. That is the difference between Islam and Islamism. If we want to win – and defend humanity at the same time – we must target Islamism. Full Stop. I have explained this further here.