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LALIT against death sentence for Sakineh M. Ashtiani


LALIT takes position against Iranian regime death sentence for Sakineh M. Ashtiani, inhuman and degrading punishment.

A 43-year old woman, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, is being held in custody in an Iranian jail, awaiting a sentence of "stoning to death" for "illicit relationship outside of marriage". The international campaign to denounce this inhuman and degrading punishment must receive our full support: we are, after all, in the 21st Century.
But we must not view this particular case in isolation. We must, through this case, expose the multitude of social and democratic aberrations that are responsible for producing this kind of monstrosity. These aberrations are present in varying degrees in most countries, including our own.

We still have the "death penalty" in our Constitution, and although it is at present suspended, there are frequent unacceptable campaigns in favour of its re-introduction. Even ministers of the present government, and not the least, have participated in this retrograde campaign. Hanging, lethal injection, stoning, electrocution, firing squad: they all form part of the same principle of retribution, and they are all unacceptable.

There are still several countries where there is an overlap between the legal system and religious principles inherited from the days of obscurantism and superstition. In fact there are still countries where religious fundamentalism still has the upper hand over secular and humanist principles, and even countries that are downright religious states. This of course poses directly the question of democracy: if there are laws that have been inherited from the murky depths of religious obscurantism, how does society choose its own laws without risking the wrath of various self-appointed religious establishments.

Finally the case of Sakineh raises the question of the status of women in society: this woman has no existence as an independent human being, with normal needs that are to be satisfied. She is "illicit", unless she is "within marriage". While the punishment that Sakineh is threatened with is the ultimate in barbarism, it is nonetheless symbolic of the repression that women suffer in various degrees, in just about all societies.

So, while we should view the extreme threat to Sakineh as something to be addressed urgently, we should not lose sight of the social, legal and democratic aberrations that can lead to such barbary": they need our permanent attention and mobilisation.

Ram Seegobin, for LALIT
(The above communique was published in the L'Express daily paper of Friday 6th August 2010.