Friday, 13 August 2010

Sticks and Stones

Iran has today launched its media assault on defamed adulteress Sakhina Mohammadi Ashtiani by releasing footage of her allegedly confessing to involvement in the murder of her husband. Her repositioning from fallen woman to femme fatale an effort by the Iranian government to move public support toward her swift execution by hanging, having been forced by international opposition to halt their plans to stone her to death. Either way, a woman dies. Scriptonite investigates...

Stoning? I thought that went out with the Stone Age

No, sadly it didn’t. There is a history of Stoning as a punishment in Judaism and this is endorsed by biblical texts. However, this hasn’t been preached or honoured by the Jewish community anywhere in the world for around 2000 years. For completeness’s sake....the crimes once punishable by death by stoning were (thank you Wiki):

1. Bestiality committed by man (Lev. xx. 15; Sanh. vii. 4, 54b; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, x. 1; Mek., Mishpaṭim, 17).

2. Bestiality committed by woman (Lev. xx. 16: Sanh. vii. 4, 54b; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, x. 3; Mek., Mishpaṭim, 17).

3. Blasphemy (Lev. xxiv. 16; Sanh. vii. 4, 43a; Sifra, Emor, xix.).

4. Criminal conversation with a betrothed virgin (Deut. xxii. 23, 24; Sanh. vii. 4, 66b; Sifre, Deut. 242).

5. Criminal conversation with one's own daughter-in-law (Lev. xx. 12; Sanh. vii. 4, 53a; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, ix. 13).

6. Criminal conversation with one's own mother (Lev. xviii. 7, xx. 11; Sanh. vii. 4, 53a; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, ix. 12).

7. Criminal conversation with one's own stepmother (Lev. xviii. 8, xx. 11; Sanh. vii. 4, 53a; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, ix. 12).

8. Cursing a parent (Lev. xx. 9; Sanh. vii. 4, 66a; Mek., Mishpaṭim, 17; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, ix. 7).

9. Enticing individuals to idolatry: "Mesit" (Deut. xiii. 7–12 [A. V. 6–11]; Sanh. vii. 4, 67a; Sifre, Deut. 90).

10. Idolatry (Deut. xvii. 2–7; Sanh. vii. 4, 60b; Sifre, Deut. 149).

11. Instigating communities to idolatry: "Maddiaḥ" (Deut. xiii. 2–6 [A. V. 1–5]; Sanh. vii. 4, 67a; Sifre, Deut. 86).

12. Necromancy (Lev. xx. 27; Sanh. vii. 4, 65a; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, xi., end).

13. Offering one's own children to Molech (Lev. xx. 2; Sanh. vii. 4, 64a; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, viii., parashah 10, beginning).

14. Pederasty (Lev. xx. 13; Sanh. vii. 4, 54a; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, ix. 14).

15. Rebelling against parents (Deut. xxi. 18–21; Sanh. vii. 4, 68b; Sifre, Deut. 220).

16. Shabbath-breaking (Num. xv. 32–36; Sanh. vii. 4; Sifre, Num. 114).

17. Witchcraft (Ex. xxii. 17 [A. V. 18]; Sanh. vii. 4, 67a; Mek., Mishpaṭim, 17).

Those Old Testament folks were strict. And to think...didn’t that guy marry his horse on Jerry Springer? How far we’ve come in those 2000 years.

However, despite there being no reference in the Quran – not one – to stoning as form of punishment for any crime – groups of men in Somalia, Afghanistan and Iran have taken it upon themselves to reintroduce this barbaric punishment through their Shariah Law system into the penal code. Infact, Iran only brought in stoning as a punishment in 1979 following the so called Islamic Revolution. Islamic Revolution only in the sense that it took the core essence of Islam and revolved it 180 degrees to create a horrific mirror image.

Getting Stoned in Iran – The Basics

In short, a woman is buried up to her neck and a man to his waist. Witnesses to the alleged ‘crime’, the sentencing judge and members of the public or police then encircle the person and throw stone at them until they die. This can take some time.

In Iran, stoning a person to death is not against the law. Using the wrong stone is.
Amnesty International
The size of the stone used in stoning shall not be too

large to kill the convict by one or two throws and at the

same time shall not be too small to be called a stone.
Article 104 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code

Now, Iran is a fully signed up member of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and as such the government is legally bound to observe the provisions of this treaty and to ensure that they are fully reflected in the country’s laws and practices relating to human rights.
Death by stoning violates Articles 6 (right to life) and 7 (prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment) of the ICCPR. However, despite assurances of a moratorium on stoning in 2002, it is clearly evident that executions this way are continuing to take place.

Infact, women and men in Iran are still being put to death for consensual sexual acts, and the country still has one of the highest rates of executions in the world. By the end of October, Amnesty International had recorded more than 250 executions since the beginning of 2007, far exceeding the 177 executions recorded in 2006.

Stoning didn’t get off to a great start and few were recorded in the few years’ post 1979. However, in 1986, the regulations were changed to make it possible for anyone with a high school diploma OR anyone simply recommended by the judiciary could become a judge. This has led to an increasing number of religious traditionalists taking their seat at the court. It should therefore come as no surprise that there were reported eight stoning executions that year.

The Iranian Penal Code’s standards and requirements, Article 105 gives the judges – who in Iran are all men – the absolute right to condemn the accused to death by stoning solely on the judge’s documented “knowledge” which could be his subjective interpretation of the case.23 This clearly violates fair trial provisions of the ICCPR that Iran has ratified, including the right to equality before courts, the right to be presumed innocent, and the right to be tried by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal. Can you imagine being tried and found guilty not on evidence, but purely on what the judge thinks they know about you from what they’ve heard?

Men have been stoned. However, there is a hugely disproportionate impact on women. According to Amnesty International: Discrimination against women in other aspects of their lives also leaves them more susceptible to conviction for adultery. Women are allowed only one sexual partner in life, their husband, whereas men are allowed four permanent wives and an unlimited number of temporary (sigheh) wives. Men have an incontestable right to divorce, whereas women have only a limited right to divorce their husbands, leaving them free to marry another man. Many women have no choice over the man they marry and many are married at a young age.

The lorry deposited a large number of stones and pebbles beside the waste ground, and then two women were led to the spot wearing white and with sacks over their heads… [they] were enveloped in a shower of stones and transformed into two red sacks… The wounded women fell to the ground and Revolutionary Guards smashed their heads in with a shovel to make sure they were dead.”
A reported witness account published by Amnesty International in 1987

 But surely that’s it? They won’t do this again – will they?!

At least nine women – Iran, Khayrieh, Kobra N, Fatemeh, Ashraf Kalhori, Shamameh Ghorbani,
Mokarrameh Ebrahimi, Leyla Ghomi and Hajar – are at risk of being stoned to death, along
with two men – Abdollah Fariva and an unamed Afghan national – according to information
received by Amnesty International.

This has to end! What Can I do?

Amnesty International are campaigning against the death penalty full stop but specifically death by stoning. Read their info and support the campaign:

Support an indigenous campaign to stop stoning. Lead by Asieh Amini and her team at Stop Stoning Forever. These women work at enormous personal risk and have been arrested on various charges for their commitment to human rights and making their country a better place. Make it worth their while. Their website:

Essentially, this is an issue about the place of a woman in her society. For so long as Iranian society continues to treat women in this bizarre – Madonna-whore fashion, whether a woman is stoned, hung or electrocuted – she is dead before any court tries her anyway. She is subjugated, treated as property to be traded for money or status, feared as the instrument tempting and tormenting men with her sexual powers- lest she be covered head to toe, and where she dare show disobedience – beat her until she does and kill her if she doesn’t. She is caged within the confines of the civil structure. And all the wonder of her contribution stifled and lost.

This can end. Don’t get angry, get involved.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Trial and Tribulation

The Sun headline today reads “24 Carat Bloody Liar” and next to it is a picture of a smug looking Naomi Campbell. Looking across the newspaper stand there is the same smug face and similar headlines. As the jury of public opinion pronounces Campbell guilty of heinous self interest - what, if any are their views on the man on trial – Mr Charles Taylor, former president of Liberia?

It was a bizarre spectacle watching the testimonies of a supermodel, an actress and a Hollywood agent sitting in the witness box of The Hague at a war crimes trial. The three were quizzed about what took place an A-lister charity dinner, hosted by Nelson Mandela at his house in Pretoria in 1997. But before we go into that any further, let’s just get a bit related to what actually happened in Liberia and Sierra Leone between 1989 and 2003.

Who on earth is Charles Taylor?
In the 80's

Charles Taylor is a former lay preacher, warlord and president of Liberia. He was born in 1948, educated in the US and grew up in the regime of brutal Samuel Doe. Whom he later turned on and overthrew in the coup of 1989.

In the dock

What did he do?

His 1989 coup led to the Liberian Civil War which ran from 1989-1996. This is acknowledge as Africa’s bloodiest civil war, in which over 200,000 people died and over 1 million people were turned from their homes into refugee camps and neighbouring countries.

Taylor’s small group of Libyan trained troops, called the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) attacked Liberia from the Ivory Coast with the explicit support of neighbouring African countries and implicit support from the West. The rule of Samuel Doe was known for its severe repression. Taylor was a freedom fighter. In response, Doe meted out an overwhelming wave of violence in an attempt to stop the coup in its tracks. Troops from the Liberian army cased the area of the incursion and opened fire indiscriminately at whomever the found, killing upto 200 civilians in one day. Meanwhile, between 1989 and 1993, Taylors NPFL also made it their business to slaughter civilians, neighbourhood militias and government officers in some of the most mindlessly brutal ways, almost outside of imagining. Many of Taylors NPFL militia, 21% according to were children.

Taylor stayed in the civil war through to 1996 when after 174 consecutive days of bloodshed a negotiated peace deal was secured and the country fell silent for an election on a new president. Taylor won with a massive majority. Although the elections were cited as the most transparent and free that Liberia had seen, they were conducted in an atmosphere of intimidation. The view on the street reported as, if Taylor doesn’t win, he will declare war on whomever does and he won’t stop until he is in power.

This is attested to by the unofficial campaign slogan, sung by children in the streets of Monrovia:

You killed my ma, you killed ma pa, you got my vote.

 Once in power, Taylor turned his attentions from leading insurrection to suppressing it by whatever means necessary. And he was successful. Acts of random violence dropped rapidly for the first 2 years following his accession to power. However, icing on a mud pie, does not make a cake.

The Showman of Africa

When he was once told by BBC icon Robin White that some people thought of him as a murderer, Taylor replied ‘even “Jesus Christ was accused of being a murderer in his time.”

The flamboyant, gregarious personal style of Charles Taylor made his international image something of the loveable rogue. But this is a dark hearted man who had led a violent vigilante force through nearly a decade of bloody warfare, overseeing the drugging of children with amphetamines to turn them into fighters and the most heinous acts of violence.

During his presidency, the roads remained broken and un-networked, pipe electricity and water was still a distant dream and the economy remained completely stalled with a GDI per capita of only $170.

The Gunrunner

Taylor also stands accused of buying weapons for armed military groups through money raised from the sale of so called ‘blood diamonds’. He started by making himself an alleged billionaire during the civil war and using the war to expand his personal fortune as a gunrunner. He is purported to have continued this betterment when in office by directly supporting a number of groups, but most notably, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in their violent onslaught against the people and government of Sierra Leone.

It is not that Charles Taylor personally took to the streets of Sierra Leone with guns and machetes. But he is accused of having funded, armed and supported the people who did.

What Happened to the child soldiers?

Taylor sought to harness their experience in the civil war by using them in various security forces which came to be increasingly feared by the people of Liberia. By late 90’s, early noughties the country was suffering an epidemic of violent groups of young men, trawling their areas in cars, rushing a public space or home and obliterating every person in the space with machetes. It is also in the hands of the new president for Liberia -

The Legacy of the Man

Walking on gunshells
By 2003, Liberia was ranked 174 out of 175 countries in the world by the UN World Human Development Index, which measures health and living conditions. Life expectancy had dropped from 57 to 47. Child mortality was at 15.7% (155.8 deaths for every 1000 live births). The economy was completely stalled with an unemployment rate of 85% and iron ore production (foundation of the economy) completely stopped.

Charles Taylor was a billionaire. Under enormous pressure and running around like a hunted man, afraid for his personal safety, Taylor fled in exile to Nigeria.

As Taylor has moved through the legal process for this war crimes trial, the country of Liberia has elected a new president: Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Ironically, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was allied to Taylor in the very early days of his campaign for power in 1989. She too believed that armed resistance was the only way to oust the brutal Samuel Doe (who was later executed). She publicly accepts this now as a mistake and a point of regret.

Johnson-Sirleaf has one hell of a task. She is running a country where rape is an everyday occurrence. A place where armed groups of thugs travel the country ready and willing to inflict outrageous violence. She is responsible for answering the question: How do we rehabilitate and integrate an entire generation of young men and women overcoming drug addiction and mental health issues from either being subjected to or inflicting extraordinary violence during the civil war period.

Chickens. Home. Roost.

And now Charles Taylor sits in the Special Court in the Hague, accused and accountable for war crimes including murder, rape, sexual slavery, gunrunning to name but a few.

So, while one might understand a supermodels fear in testifying against one of the world’s most deplorable leaders, one also must ask questions of the intransigence and selfishness implicit in Naomi Campbell’s actions. In the context of the persecution and suffering of the people of Liberia, her (upheld) request for no press at her entry and exit of the trial to protect her personal security seems a little rich.

What Can I do about it?

Loads. There are aid organisations committed to supporting Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in her ambitious goals in making Liberia a country to be proud of, where its people thrive in peace and have the opportunity to enjoy their lives, develop and use their talents and trust in their government. You can donate money or time to any of them.

The International Rescue Committee


Sponsor a Child

You can also get yourself on the ground and volunteer in the country and be part of the teams implementing the projects which kind people all over the world are funding.

Volunteer Africa

Equip Liberia
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