Antediluvian Iran

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on August 8, 2010

Time for me to depress myself–and you, for that matter–with Iran linkage:

1. First off, this is what happens when one seeks to defend the innocent in Iran:

The lawyer defending a woman sentenced to death by stoning in Iran said on Sunday that he has applied for asylum in Norway, but hopes Iranian authorities will allow him eventually to return to his practice.

Mohammad Mostafaei told reporters he chose to flee to Norway after obtaining a one-year Norwegian travel visa. He also cited the Nordic country’s prominent human rights profile.

The 31-year-old said he fled to Turkey last week after learning Iranian officials intended to arrest him. He flew to Norway Saturday after being detained briefly in Turkey over an undisclosed passport issue.

Mostafaei maintained a blog that sparked a worldwide campaign to free his client, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who was convicted of adultery. In July, Iranian authorities said they would not carry out the stoning sentence for the time being, but the mother of two could still face execution by hanging for her conviction of adultery and other offenses.

While Mostafaei is applying for asylum, it’s unclear whether he will stay in Norway. He said he hopes international pressure will force Tehran to let him return to his practice.

2. And this is what happens to some of the actual innocent, themselves:

An 18-year-old Iranian is facing imminent execution on charges of homosexuality, even though he has no legal representation. Ebrahim Hamidi, who is not gay, was sentenced to death for lavat, or sodomy, on the basis of “judge’s knowledge”, a legal loophole that allows for subjective judicial rulings where there is no conclusive evidence.

The connection between Ashtiani and Hamidi is, of course, their lawyer, Mohammad Mostafaie, who was forced to flee Iran. It is encouraging to see that Mostafaie is doing the Lord’s work, and resisting state-sponsored tyranny, but one naturally wonders how many such brave souls will be willing to do that kind of work, given the persecution they face at the hand of the Islamic regime.

3. Shirin Ebadi weighs in on antediluvian Iran:

Before the 1979 Islamic revolution, in the years when I worked as a judge in Iran, consensual sexual relations between adults did not figure in the country’s criminal code. But the revolution enacted a version of Islamic law extraordinarily harsh even by the standards of the Muslim world. Under the new regime, extramarital sex was a crime punishable by law. The punishment for a single man or woman guilty of sex outside marriage became 100 lashes; under Article 86, the punishment for a married person became death by stoning.

On the face of things, stoning is not a gender-specific punishment, for the law stipulates that adulterous men face the same brutal end. But Iranian law permits polygamy, so it offers men an escape route. Because Iranian law recognizes “marriages” of even a few hours between men and single women, men can claim that their adulterous relationships are in fact temporary marriages. By exploiting this escape clause, men are rarely sentenced to stoning. Married women accused of adultery have access to no such reprieve.

Iran’s legal codes are studded with inconsistencies and vagaries that make due process virtually impossible. For example, if a man or woman commits adultery while being denied sexual access to a spouse due to travel or other prolonged separation, 100 lashes suffice as punishment. But the law does not specify the duration of acceptable separation, so judges are left with discretion over whether to lash adulterers or stone them.

Stoning can also be reduced to lashes when a married woman has sex with a minor. (Iranian law considers the age of maturation for girls nine, and for boys 15.) Thus a married woman who commits adultery with a 40-year-old man must be sentenced to stoning, but one who commits the same act with a 15-year-old—taking sexual advantage of a minor—is accorded a legal break.

Iranian judges can hand down a stoning verdict without the testimony of a personal plaintiff; if it can be proven that a man or woman has committed adultery, the transgressor can be stoned even if the betrayed spouse offers his or her forgiveness.

Article 105 of the penal code, meanwhile, enables a judge to sentence an adulterer to stoning based only on his “knowledge.” As such, a judge can sentence a woman simply based on her husband’s complaint.

These glaring lapses are only the most obvious reasons why Iran must reconsider its practice of such an ancient punishment, which most Islamic countries long ago discarded in their quest to harmonize Islam with modern norms.

4. And Heaven forbid that you should enjoy the delights of Euterpe:

The last thing I want to do is step into the thicket of religion, politics and all that (well, actually, I love nothing more than discussing religion, politics and all that, but this blog probably isn’t the best forum). Still, an article in the Guardian really got me a bit annoyed, and I felt I just had to say a word or two, even if it does mean stepping into testy waters.

A couple days ago, Iran’s highest authority, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, spoke about music, and, since he enjoys something equivalent to the Pope’s infallibility, I worry about how these views may reverberate throughout Iran.

According to the story, Khamenei declared ”that music is ‘not compatible’ with the values of the Islamic republic, and should not be practised or taught in the country … Khamenei said: ‘Although music is halal, promoting and teaching it is not compatible with the highest values of the sacred regime of the Islamic Republic.’ ”

It gets worse. Asked by a follower if it was OK to take music lessons, Khamenei said: “It’s better that our dear youth spend their valuable time in learning science and essential and useful skills and fill their time with sport and healthy recreations instead of music.”

Max Fisher explains the “reasoning” (if one wants to call it that) behind the regulations:

. . . Iranians have seen this strategy before. The regime has used similar tacticsin tightening the country’s infamous regulations on clothing requirement for women. When the government leadership feels threatened by popular unrest or domestic political pressure, it often responds by changing the rules of dress or tightening enforcement, often with no formal announcement so as to create as much confusion as possible

What happens next? Iranian music lovers, many of whom are among the youth who populate the green movement and trouble the regime’s security, daily life will be increasingly consumed by a maze of ever-shifting regulations. Such diversionary tactics are far from a long-term solution for the regime’s unpopularity among students and much of the middle class, but they have proven successful in curbing short-term dissent.

Of course, political considerations aside, Khamene’i's order may simply be a byproduct of a disfigured soul:

Houshang Asadi, a former cellmate of Khamenei before the Islamic Revolution said: “He hated the music from the beginning.”

“There were times I sang a song by Banan (a popular vocalist) for him and he told me to avoid music and instead pray to God”, said Asadi, who shared a cell with Khamenei for four months in Moshtarak prison in Tehran in 1976 and stayed friend with him for several years after the revolution. “The only music he liked was revolutionary and religious anthems,” said Asadi.

Banan is beloved by Iranians. Iran is not beloved by Khamene’i. It would therefore make sense that he now seeks to take Banan–and other excellent music–away from Iranians.

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