The story of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 43 year old mother
of two- sentenced to death by stoning in an Iranian court for adultery, has
attracted attentions, globally. Few weeks ago we learned that she escaped
stoning, but Ms Ashtiani's lawyer and human rights activist has, after appeals
for clemency rejected, warned that her execution was imminent. So far many Human
Rights activists have helped to organize protests or write about her case.
A number of prominent celebrities and politicians of the world have also lent their support to the campaign in order to prevent her from being stoned to death. The most significant call for amnesty probably comes from President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, leftist president of Brazil who has offered Ms. Ashtiani asylum.
Now I've been given a chance to discuss this case with Dr Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam. Dr Amiry- Moghadam is a Norwegian-Iranian neuroscientist and human rights activist. He is the spokesman of Iran Human Rights, an NGO organization based in Oslo.
Q: There has been an international campaign to prevent Sakineh Ashtiani from being stoned to death. Can you tell us how you learned about this case and what have you done since you knew there is immediate danger of stoning or execution for Sakineh?
A: We heard about Mrs. Ashtiani's case in 2009 through his lawyer Mr. Mostafaei. We wrote a short notice about her in our website (http://iranhr.net/spip.php?article1208) in July 2009. At that time Mr. Mostafaei had written a letter to the head of the judiciary asking him to remove the stoning verdict, and besides that, all the media focus was on the post-election protests. This year the case received more attention after Mrs. Ashtiani's son started a campaign to save his mother. Like many other human rights organizations we have been trying to put focus on her case by publishing the news, giving statements, writing letters to the UN and the authorities in different countries along with creating awareness among the public. In Norway, the case received much attention and the Iranian ambassador was summoned to the ministry of foreign affairs. I believe the attention Mrs. Ashtiani's case received in the media and among the ordinary people and the civil society was detrimental for the international reactions that ahs followed.
Q: I am aware that you translate events of Human Rights abuse to the Norwegian language and also recently you had an interview with BBC Brazil news in Portuguese. How important, you think, it is to spread the word in different languages and involve other nations?
A: Iran Human Rights (www.iranhr.net) writes the human rights related news in the eight languages of English, Farsi, French, Italian, Japanese, Serbian, Norwegian and Swedish. Besides that we work on the media in different countries. I see very often that Spanish and Latin American newspapers refer to our website. During the past months we have had several interviews with the media in the countries that have close ties with Iran. I had several interviews with Turkish and Brazilian media. And as you mentioned, BBC Brazil wrote several articles on Mrs. Ashtiani's case. Again, I believe the attention these cases receive is thanks to the human rights defenders and the civil society in these countries. The media writes what is interesting for the public and I am glad that human rights issues are getting more and more interest among the ordinary people. I believe that mobilizing the civil society and the public opinion is the only sustainable way towards promotion of the human rights worldwide.
Our organization has started an "open" membership policy, that is, anyone with any nationality can join us to work for the human rights in Iran. I believe human rights violation is a global phenomena and fighting for its improvement in one country will without any doubt also affect the human rights situation elsewhere.
Q: Recently Mohammad Mostafaei the lawyer of Sakineh Mohammadi left Iran to turkey, while his wife and brother in law were arrested without any legal grounds and, in effect, are taken as a hostage. Now he has applied for asylum in Turkey. It seems that the judiciary is putting pressure on him and his family, because of his defence of Sakineh Ashtiani, and the attention her case received internationally. There is tremendous pressure on Human Rights advocates in Iran, Why Iran arrests independent human rights advocates and lawyers?
A: As you say, Mr. Mostafaei has only been doing his job, which is defending his clients. To my knowledge, he has not been involved in any political cases and he hasn't crossed the Iranian authorities "red lines". The fact that a lawyer who has solely been doing his job is being persecuted by the Iranian authorities shows that the Iranian regime has less tolerance for any criticism, which again indicated that the regime had become weaker than before and feels more threatened . We must also keep in mind that the Iranian authorities use death penalty and punishments such as stoning in order to spread fear among the people. I don't believe they can control the increasingly unsatisfied Iranian people without persecution, censorship, amputations, execution and stoning. That's why even defending someone who is sentenced to death in a criminal case (an not a political case) has become intolerable for the authorities. Their next step will be to put even more limitations on the responsibilities and rights of the lawyers.
Regarding Mr. Mostafaei I must say that I am very glad that he is safe now and will hopefully come to Norway. He has been bravely defending the most defenceless individuals in the Iranian society. But I am at the same time very concerned about all the minors on the death row in Iran now. There are more than 130 minors who are on the dearth row in the Iranian prisons now. Several of them are at imminent danger of execution. I believe it will now be even more difficult for other lawyers to defend these minors. The international community and especially the UN will have an even greater responsibility than before. Death penalty to the minors is a clear violation of the UN's convention for the rights of the child, which has been ratified by Iran and that is legally binding. We need a sustainable worldwide campaign to abolish death penalty for minors once for all. There are few countries that still sentence minors to death. Iran is with good margin on top of the list, followed by Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Sudan. It is realistic to build up an international alliance composed of Western and non-western countries, to abolish death penalty to the minors. So far there has been a lack of political will at the highest levels, but we hope, with the increasing involvement of the general public and the civil society world wide, this issue in particular and the human rights in general, will receives a higher priority in international politics.
Q: Do you think International Human Rights organizations can play more important role in Iran and if yes, how?
A: Absolutely! I believe the international human rights organizations through mobilization of the public opinion can make the human rights violations in Iran an even more important issue in internationally. We have to support the human rights defenders and the civil society in Iran. The human rights organizations should be voices of those who are living under censorship and persecution in Iran.
Q: Iranians are very sensitivie to death sentance for political prisoners and cases of stoning for adultry. But as you know many of death sentances are charges for drug smugglers attempting to traffic illegal narcotics. Do you think this is a taboo and Iranians are not ready to abolish the death penalty?
A: Few years ago there were very few people talking about abolition of death penalty in Iran. I remember that even among the human rights defenders that I was in contact with abolition didn't have much support. It is not strange in a country where one person is being hanged everyday and the word execution (edam) is a commonly used term. But the situation has dramatically changed during the past 2-3 years. Today we hear more often human rights activists and even political organizations talk about abolition of the death penalty. I have also noticed increasing interest for the death penalty news inside Iran. So I am optimistic that the political and ideological struggle that has been dominating Iran's political scene in the past decades will change into a struggle for the basic human rights.
Q: The European Union imposed new economic sanctions on Iran,
These sanctions are well beyond the measures approved by a UN resolution last
month. The nuclear issue is the main concern of international community.
Human rights violation is not part of diplomatic talks; instead negotiations are focused on nuclear plans.
Within this context what are your main concerns about future of Iran ?
Answer: As mentioned earlier human rights are not prioritized in the international politics. That is probably why it is difficult to pass sanctions on Iran because of the human rights violations.
International sanctions are important if they are subjected against the organs and individuals who are responsible for the human rights violations. It is important that the sanctions send the right signals to the Iranian authorities as well as the Iranian people. The message to the Iranian authorities should be that their actions will have consequences, and the message to the Iranian people should be that the sanctions are not meant to harm them. But there is no doubt that the real change should come from inside and by the hands of the Iranian people. Lets not forget that neither USA nor Israel are the Iranian regimes biggest threat. The main threat to the Iranian regime comes from the young Iranian men and women who went on the streets in the summer of 2009 demanding their legitimate rights.
... Payvand News - 08/11/10 ... --