Amnesty International has welcomed last week's announcement by the spokesperson for Iran’s Judiciary that execution by stoning has been suspended and that several unnamed women who were facing the punishment have had their sentences commuted.
"Stoning is a horrific practice, designed to increase the suffering of those facing execution, and it has no place in the modern world," Amnesty International said. "We look to the Iranian authorities to ensure that this dreadful punishment is never again used."
The majority of those sentenced to death by stoning have been women. Women do not receive equal treatment with men under Iranian law and before Iranian courts. Also, because illiteracy is higher among women they may be more likely to sign confessions to crimes they did not commit and to receive unfair trials.
"The suspension of stoning is a welcome, if long overdue step, and a tribute to the courageous efforts of Iranian Human rights defenders," said Drewery Dyke of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme. "However, an earlier moratorium on stoning executions was breached, so we shall be watching closely to see that this does not happen again."
In 2002, the Head of Iran’s Judiciary announced that the use of stoning as a method of execution had been halted. However, in May 2006, a woman and a man were reported to have been stoned to death in Mashad. A further stoning execution was carried out on 5 July 2007 when a man, Ja'far Kiani was executed in Qazvin province after being convicted of adultery.
"It is really over to parliament [which is currently considering proposed new penal legislation] to reform the law and ensure that stoning executions are never again permitted," Drewery Dyke added.
The announced suspension of stoning follows concerted action by Iranian human rights defenders, who have mounted a Stop Stoning Campaign since October 2006. Their efforts, together with the local and international publicity they have generated and the support of Amnesty International and other organisations, is believed to have helped save at least five people from stoning.
While welcoming the announcement on stoning, Amnesty International continues to call on the Iranian authorities to end other cruel and inhuman punishments, such as flogging and albeit rarely used provisions prescribing the amputation of limbs, and to take other steps to reduce use of the death penalty.
Iran's existing Penal Code provides for the execution by stoning as the penalty for adultery by married persons. It even states that the stones be large enough to cause pain, but not so large as to kill the victim immediately.
Iranian human rights defenders continue to face arrest, harassment and intimidation at the hands of the authorities. Thirty-three women, including members of the Stop Stoning Forever campaign, were arrested while protesting in March 2007 about the trial of five women's rights activists in Tehran.