The Islamic Republic of Iran and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have raised the issue of 41 year old Teresa Lewis’ impending execution in the US to challenge the “storm” surrounding 43 year old Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani who has been sentenced to death by stoning in Iran.
Clearly both women must not be executed. Executions – for whatever reason – are the most deplorable form of intentional murder.
Having said that, however, there are a number of reasons why Sakineh’s impending stoning has caused such a huge public outcry.
Firstly, we have a photo of Sakineh; we know her full name, that she has had a fifth grade education, and that she ‘wants to live,’ making it extremely personal.
Her children have pleaded for help. The international campaign took off in an unprecedented manner after an open letter from Sakineh’s two children calling on people to intervene.
Who can ever forget that letter?
It said: ‘Today we stretch out our hands to the people of the whole world… Is the world so cruel that it can watch this catastrophe and do nothing about it?’
Also we – and particularly Mina Ahadi – have been campaigning against stoning for years. Mina first started working on Sakineh’s case three years ago.
Finally, stoning is the most egregious and barbaric form of execution. The law even specifies the size of stone to be used. Prior to the stoning, the bodies of the victims are washed in the same way the dead are (whilst they are alive), wrapped in a shroud, and then buried in a ditch – up to the waist for men and chest for women. They are then pelted with stones – on prison grounds or in their already dug out graves – until they are dead.
Sakineh has become the cry of 21st century humanity vis-à-vis this era’s barbarism.
Today, stoning has become the racial apartheid of this century – intolerable and unacceptable. The public are just not going to stand for stoning anymore. And as a result governments have taken heed. We know that many governments supported racial apartheid in South Africa for a very long time and only as a result of public pressure did they eventually deem racial apartheid a crime against humanity. We also know that many of the very governments criticising Iran on Sakineh’s case have had and continue to have wonderfully cosy relations with that regime despite its slaughter of an entire generation.
But that is the nature of public outcries – they change laws, they ban the intolerable, they challenge the powers that be and even bring down governments and regimes.
Sakineh’s case has caused such a storm because we want her to live.
We want to save her.
We won’t let her die.
Not because she is the only one in this situation but because she symbolises that which we will no longer tolerate.
There are many others like her – in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, China and yes the US waiting to be killed one way or the other by the state as a tool to repress and intimidate society at large.
But there are also many others like Baby P or Dua Khalil, yet it is their faces and names and stories that force us to scream enough.