Those sentenced to death by hanging, or stoning, in Iran, and there are many, do not have the opportunity to repeatedly appear in the media, as is the case with the Iranian woman Sakineh Mohammed Ashtiani. Whenever someone is executed or waiting to be executed in Iran, they are usually killed with little fuss.
However, over the past two months, Sakineh Mohammed Ashtiani, who has been sentenced to death twice, by stoning and hanging, has appeared in the media at least three times. On one occasion, she appeared in a video confession to her involvement in the death of her husband. After this failed to alleviate the global campaign against Iran, Sakineh returned to the spotlight again. She appeared in a press conference, and then later a reunion with her family, where she addressed the media saying: “Leave my case alone.”
No one can understand how Sakineh Mohammed Ashtiani was released from prison after she was pictured reunited with her family, or indeed how some Iranian judges have now said that it is possible to reduce her sentence, which was issued four years ago.
In the film which was professionally produced by Iranian state television, Sakineh is shown in her home, re-enacting her husband’s murder. The film provides alleged details of how Ashtiani drugged her husband, so that his cousin could then commit the murder. However, during this alleged confessions, Sakineh seemed rigid, almost robotic in fact.
Armed with a medical certificate and genuine pictures of the husband’s corpse, after he had been killed by electric shock, this film aimed, first and foremost, to convince Western public opinion that Sakineh Mohammed Ashtiani is a criminal, rather than the Iranian public.
However, did the Iranian authorities really think that Sakineh Mohammed Ashtiani’s performance in the film, her appearance with her son, and her condemnation of the campaign supporting her case, be enough to make the world forget about this issue? Did they think that this was a convincing performance, sufficient to put an end to the international campaign against Iran?
We do not know whether Sakineh’s confession was true or not. It is not rare in Iran for people to be forced to make certain statements, but it is rare that those sentenced to death are given the opportunity to defend themselves in front of the media…however Sakineh appeared in the media in order to defend the regime, rather than herself.
What the Iranian authorities have failed to notice is that the campaign against Iran, regarding Sakineh Mohammed Ashtiani’s case, is two-dimensional: Firstly, there is the international opposition to the death penalty itself, and Iran is one of the countries that most applies the death sentence. The second, and most important dimension, concerns Sakineh Mohammed Ashtiani’s second death sentence, i.e. death by stoning. This is a brutal and barbaric punishment which would be unpopular regardless of the offence committed. Over the last three decades, Iran has executed people by stoning at least 69 times, according to official statistics, however international figures indicate that this figure exceeds 100 executions [by stoning].
Iran is capable of defying the rest of the world, with regards to several political issues, such as nuclear weapons, and its support for armed movements in other states. However, it will remain powerless in the case of Sakineh Mohammed Ashtiani, because here it is competing with public opinion and human rights.