WHO WILL CAST THE FIRST STONE?
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