See an interview in Italian paper here.
An open letter signed by 40 writers, academics and campaigners calling for the boycott of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his government at the United Nations General Assembly was published in the Guardian today, 21 September 2010.
Below is another email from the BBC Sunday Morning Live Executive Producer dated 10 September which still refuses to respond to my criticism or request. Since the programme clearly doesn’t want to address this issue in an unbiased manner, I won’t be replying. What for? Instead I will take my complaint to a higher public body and will report back here when I do.
As an aside, though, there’s a good reason they are known as Ayatollah BBC in Iran. After all who holds a debate entitled ‘is it right to condemn Iran for stoning’ when the regime has stepped up its efforts to kill Sakineh? And whilst the whole world has risen up in outrage?
Here’s the second email:
Dear Ms Namazie
Thanks for your email.
We completely understand the depth of feeling you express on this subject. That is precisely why we held the debate about stoning in Iran.
When referring to “official” Iranian government policy on this issue Susanna was very careful to use that word each time – “officially”. That clearly implies this is a government line – not necessarily one to be credibly believed. Otherwise we simply would not have had a reason to debate a subject which as I said we may well return to.
We had two contributors from outside of the studio who provided context to a debate in which our studio guests entirely condemned stoning. As I mentioned in my previous email, I regret that we did not have sufficient time during the discussion to take your contribution.
Sunday Morning Live
A BBC Sunday Morning Live Executive Producer has responded to my complaint. Below you will see his email and my reply.
8 September 2010
Dear Maryam Namazie
Thank you for your email to Sunday Morning Live this afternoon, which I am pleased to respond to. I understand two of my colleagues have also apologised to you for the fact that you were not able to take part in Sunday’s discussion.
Our debate on Sunday was whether we were right to condemn Iran over the stoning of women. On our studio panel we had two contributors who both condemned stoning and argued that we were right to condemn Iran for carrying it out, and a third who condemned the stonings themselves. The discussion was introduced using a filmed interview with a campaigner for women’s rights in Iran. We also had two contributors via webcam: one who spoke on Sharia law; and a lawyer from Tehran who tried to explain the position of the authorities in Iran.
I regret that there was insufficient time during what was a heated discussion for us to take a contribution from yourself, and would like to take this opportunity to apologise for that. I do not believe, however, that the debate was an unbalanced one. Indeed, all our guests in the studio went out of their way to condemn this medieval practice.
As we’ve said, the Sunday Morning Live focus was on whether it was right for countries such as ours to try to intervene. We certainly do not believe we in any way minimised the horror of stoning, and I don’t think anyone watching the debate could come away feeling that it had been anything other than condemned in the strongest terms.
When the “murder” issue was raised, Susanna Reid pointed out that Ms Ashtiani’s guilt was contested.
We take some exception, therefore, to the suggestion that the programme gave any succour, even unwittingly, to a regime that may indeed be manoeuvring for ways to implement a penal policy which we clearly signalled, at the start of the item, as belonging to the Middle Ages.
For many of the reasons you mention it may be all too likely that we return to Ms Ashtiani’s plight in a future programme. If and when that happens we would of course want to consider your making a contribution to the on-air debate.
With very best wishes.
Executive Producer | Sunday Morning Live | BBC One
Here is my reply:
9 September 2010
Dear Mr Pattinson
Thank you for your prompt albeit disappointing response to my email regarding the 5 September BBC Sunday Morning Live programme on the Iran stoning case. Whilst I am not surprised, I must still insist on the provision of factual corrections with regards stoning in Iran and Sakineh’s case in your upcoming programme.
Your response clearly fails to address the main point I made, which is that your presenter, Susanna Reid, made factually incorrect statements that gave the impression to viewers that Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is not to be stoned, that stoning does not take place in Iran or is rare and that Ms Ashtiani is facing execution for murder rather than adultery. Even where your presenter added that her guilt was ‘contested’ (as you mention) it was to reiterate the fabricated murder charge against her. Also, the introduction by a women’s rights campaigner, whilst interesting, gave no information on Ms Ashtiani’s specific case in order to help contradict statements made as facts by your presenter. Moreover, that some of your studio guests condemned stoning and the government despite your programme’s misinformation is a credit to them not the programme itself.
Unfortunately your response makes it seem as if my complaint is about my not being able to participate in the debate. It is not. It is about the adverse effects of the programme’s bias on the life of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani.
Saying that stoning is no longer in existence in Iran or labeling Ms Ashtiani a murderer has direct bearings on her case. As I have said before, we must not forget that a woman’s life is at stake. After all, if we agree with her son that it is the international campaign in her defence that is keeping her alive, then such misinformation has direct and adverse effects on her situation. Also, isn’t the media bound to provide accurate information even in a religious programme? Is it accurate for your presenter to say: ‘the Iranian government says it is stopping stoning as a punishment for adultery and homosexuality’ and then go on to make a contradictory statement saying: ‘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?’
As an aside, your email states that the reason I was not brought on was the result of insufficient time. However, a phone call message from your colleague on 5 September said it was because viewers in the poll taken were ‘overwhelmingly’ in favour of condemning Iran for stoning which is why you had two proponents of stoning join via webcam and no-one opposed to it. Since the poll conducted was about whether ‘money [was] ruining sports, I find both her explanation and yours lacking.
In any case, I look forward to a resolution of this matter.
8 September 2010
BBC Sunday Morning 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 Morning 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.
1. The programme can be seen here until next Sunday and begins at 47.00 minutes.
You can see it here too since it won’t be available after 12 September 2010:
2. Every day from today until next Sunday’s programme, I will write a post on my blog addressing other issues raised in the debate, which never received a response.
3. For more information:
BM Box 6754
London WC1N 3XX, UK
Tel: +44 (0) 7719166731
I was meant to speak on BBC Sunday Live’s debate today on whether it was right to condemn the regime for Sakineh’s stoning.
In the live debate, they managed to interview Suhaib Hassan from the Islamic Sharia Council defending stoning and someone from Tehran saying she faces execution for murdering her husband but somehow there was no time in the debate for me.
Even the presenter, Susanna Reid, said stonings were rare and that none had taken place since the 2002 moratorium! In fact 17 people have been stoned since the moratorium; also there are court documents provided by her lawyer specifying her stoning sentence for adultery. BBC had all this information. Without providing evidence to the contrary, BBC Sunday Live took as fact the regime’s pronouncements on her case. They failed to mention that the man charged with her husband’s murder is not being executed and that the trumped up murder charges are an attempt by the regime to silence the public outcry and kill Sakineh. As Sakineh herself has said: “they think they can do anything to women.”
The crux of the debate is this – of course it is right to condemn the regime. It has nothing to do with imposing ‘western’ values or imperialism. It’s a matter of choice really. Do you choose the regime’s values or that of Sakineh and her son’s who are fighting to keep her alive.
BBC Sunday Live has clearly made its choice. And the millions worldwide, including in Iran, who won’t stop fighting to save her life have made ours.
We will not stop till we end stoning and save Sakineh.
To see the debate, click here. If you are unhappy at the way the debate went, please contact the programme and ask for a balanced view on the issue: