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In the punishment of stoning to death, the stones should not be too large so that the person dies on being hit by one or two of them; they should not be so small either that they could not be defined as stones.
So states article 119 of the Law of Hodoud and Qesas on the punishment of stoning. Two women,
Saba 'Abd 'Ali (aged 30), and Zaynab Haydari (aged 38), faced this penalty of death by stoning under the Hodoud law. This followed their conviction for adultery by a court in Ilam Gharb - a small town in Western Iran. Confirmation from Iran's Supreme Court is still required before the sentence can be imposed.

The plight of Saba 'Abd 'Ali and Zaynab Haydari is not an infrequent occurrence in Iran. Their case was brought to the attention of Amnesty International [AI], via the 'Urgent Action' network Amnesty operates. While AI recognises the legitimacy of traditional religious penal codes, like that of Iran's, they are compelled to point out gross breaches of accepted international human rights standards. In this desperate case, they are two-fold:

Firstly, Iran is a signatory nation to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Covenant basically states that nation states which still retain the barbaric right to kill certain citizens (for whatever reason) should reserve such instances to only "the most serious of crimes". Does adultery constitute a "serious" crime? The question, of course, raises all types issues concerning cultural relativity beyond the scope of this column. Suffice to say that to be fully human must necessarily involve some fundamental rights - be they the basic rights to life and freedom of conscience, or more 'elaborate' ones, such as the right to a free education. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights can provide a starting point from which these issues can be approached but even in the Western world, divergences of belief arise as shown by AI's unequivocal stand against capital punishment (of any type) and the laws of many states in the USA. Additionally, in an ironic way, it is often the same religious frameworks which give rise to such barbaric laws, like stoning, which can also prove to be the philosophical basis for a truly thorough belief in the absolute sacredness of human life.

The second issue in this sad case of execution is the form of death - stoning. The opening quote demonstrates the reality that stoning has the additional purpose of inflicting intense suffering before death. Such a death is cruel, inhuman, and more akin to torture. It only serves to reinforce the use of violence in the world, and raises many further questions around issues of sexual equality. What's needed is someone truly radical enough to dare to say in Iran, "Let the one who is sinless cast the first stone."

Robert Bentz Ashe