Mariam Ghorbanzadeh, 25, who was six months' pregnant and miscarried after being beaten up in Tabriz prison this week, was initially sentenced to death by stoning for adultery but her sentence has been commuted to hanging in a rapid judicial review. The decision is thought to have been driven by the Iranian authorities' desire to avoid further international condemnation over the barbaric punishment.Hanging is, of course, not as primitive as stoning someone to death, but it is still a barbaric way for any nation to deal with criminality.
According to Iranian law, officials could not carry out her sentence while she was pregnant. Speaking to the Guardian, her lawyer, Houtan Kian, who represents Mohammadi Ashtiani and two other women kept in Tabriz prison convicted of adultery, said: "My fear is that Iran executes Mariam and those others whose cases have not attracted media attention."
Mohammadi Ashtiani has appeared on state TV in Iran appearing to confess to adultery and promising that she intended to sue her lawyer for embarrassing her by making this case so public. One couldn't help feel that it was the Iranian government which has been embarrassed, and that the words coming out of her mouth were reflecting the way they felt rather than Ashtiani.
Another of Kian's clients, Azar Bagheri, 19, was imprisoned at the age of 15 after her husband accused her of having an extramarital relationship. Bagheri was on death row for adultery but her sentence was commuted to 100 lashes after Mohammadi Ashtiani's story came to light. Although Bagheri's death penalty was handed down four years ago, the sentence could not be carried out until she was 18 years of old.
"All these women are convicted for adultery but Iran is trying to change their sentences after Sakineh's case has embarrassed them," Kian said.
Her lawyer has stated that she was tortured for two days before giving this "confession", prompting Amnesty International to condemn this as "a complete mockery of the judiciary system in Iran".
Of course, Amnesty International and people like myself find it very easy to condemn the torture of Ashtiani, but I wonder how the American right wingers - usually so keen to condemn all things Iranian - can square the circle of their own embrace of torture during the Bush administration.
Will they actually be hypocritical enough to condemn the Iranians for doing the very thing which they previously applauded? Or will they continue to argue that torture is different when they do it? That torture somehow leads to the truth when carried out in Guantanamo Bay, but leads to lies when practiced in Iran?
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