Human Rights Groups and State Department Speak Out Against Stoning

Photo found on Amnesty International website

Human rights groups and concerned supporters have launched a campaign against the execution of Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani, asking the Iranian government to revisit her case and revise their execution practices.

According to a recent Amnesty International report, the human rights organization made a new call last Wednesday to the Iranian government to immediately halt all executions and desist all death sentences. The group has recorded 126 executions in Iran from the start of this year to June 6.

Ashtiani, a 43 year-old Iranian mother of two, faces “imminent” execution by stoning for confessing to adultery in 2006. According to a CNN report, Ashtiani was forced to confess after receiving 99 lashes after her arrest, but she later retracted her statements and denied any wrongdoing.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran also issued appeals to the Iranian Judiciary to halt her execution and to the Iranian parliament to abolish stoning as a form of execution.

When a woman is executed by stoning in accordance with Sharia law, she is typically buried at her breasts while men are buried to their waists, and bystanders are invited to throw stones until she dies. An April, 2010 Amnesty International report said that according to Article 104 in Sharia law, with reference to adultery, the stones used should “not be large enough to kill the person by one or two strikes, nor should they be so small that they could not be defined as stones.” Ashtiani was sentenced to be stoned with medium-sized stones so she would die at a slower rate.

The CNN report also indicated that Ashtiani could be stoned “at any time,” and often times, prisoners are not informed of their execution until the last minute.

The Campaign also reported that Ashtiani was in an abusive marriage that led to the murder of her husband by another man she became involved with. She and the man were sentenced to ten years in prison, but the judges decided to also punish her, without any evidence, for having an extramarital relationship with a man.

The International Committee Against Stoning has also launched an international campaign in support of Ashtiani and other Iranian women who could face death by stoning. The group, led by Mina Ahadi, is organizing worldwide protests, inviting people to write letters and providing lists of executions by stoning committed by the Iranian government.

Philip Crowley, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, said in a State Department press conference that the U.S. does not support the disproportional laws that punish women by death for committing adultery.

“We have grave concerns that the punishment does not fit the alleged crime,” he said. “And for a modern society such as Iran, we think this raises significant human rights concerns, and disproportionate treatment of women in terms of how society metes out justice.”

Below, listen to Mina Ahadi’s interview with CNN.

Last year, the film The Stoning of Soraya M. was released about a woman who was stoned for allegedly committing adultery in an Iranian village. It is now banned in Iran for its criticism of the Iranian legal system.

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Obama’s Mideast Rights Record Comes Under Fire

A report by Charles Dameron, fellow intern at Radio Free Europe based on an event at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Michael Posner, the US assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor, is less than sanguine about the success of the Obama Administration’s human rights policy in the Middle East. “I can’t say we’re succeeding everywhere, but we’re certainly trying,” Posner said at a Wednesday event in Washington marking the one-year anniversary of President Obama’s widely-acclaimed Cairo speech .

At the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Posner fended off criticism from regional activists that the administration’s policies have failed to match its rhetoric. “[There are] many of us in the administration who are pushing for human rights, democracy, and civil society development,” Posner said.

Others are more critical. “The friends of human rights in the [Obama] administration are a minority,” says Bahey al-Din Hassan, the director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies. In remarks at the Carnegie Endowment, Hassan claimed that “from June 2009 through June 2010, the region has witnessed an intensification of repression,” pointing to anti-Shia policies in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, sectarian violence against Egyptian Copts, and new and dangerous threats to human rights defenders in the region.

Hassan’s obesrvations are backed by reports from other observers. In March, Human Rights Watch noted that the detention and harassment of civil society workers and journalists proceeds apace in Syria, even as diplomats from the United States and Europe have “failed to press the issue.” Civil rights in Egypt continue to slide, and international organizations have decried the imprisonment of independent bloggers, along with allegations of widespread fraud and interference in elections in early June. Although Vice President Biden has publicly voiced concerns with Egypt’s government, many in Egypt are unconvinced of the Obama Administration’s interest in human rights promotion.

Emad Gad, an analyst at the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, was recently quoted in the Christian Science Monitor as saying, “I think the current American government doesn’t care about the human rights issue and religious freedom in Egypt.” Egyptian dissident Saad Ibrahim put it even more bluntly in a recent op-ed in The Washington Post , headlined “Obama is too friendly with tyrants.”

Indeed, there is some question as to whether Obama’s June 2009 speech in Cairo was meant to promote human rights in the Middle East at all. Michael Crowley of Time , looking back at the Cairo address , noted that “Obama offered only the mildest nods to human rights and democracy – pressing questions in the despotic Middle East, especially, but ones that his realist foreign policy has largely glossed over in the name of stability, perhaps at a strategic cost.”

In Washington on Wednesday, Bahey al-Din Hassan said that Egyptians interpreted Obama’s Cairo address in two broad ways: first, “that it was a message of engagment with Arab peoples and Arab governments;” and second, “that it was a message of engagement with Arab governments and disengagement with Arab peoples.” Hassan suggested that the latter interpretation was ascendant in the Arab world, and pointed to three specific administration policies indicative of a shift in US priorities away from human rights: US support for the Yemeni government, “a bloody, corrupt regime;” American endorsement of the results of Sudan’s 2010 general election, which Hassan called “rigged;” and the US government’s decision to cut off aid to Egyptian civil society organizations not registered or approved by the Egyptian government – tantamount, Hassan believes, to “providing direct support for the enemy.”

Hassan’s premise that the US government must choose between supporting the Middle East’s rulers or supporting its populations was sharply challenged as a “false choice” by Tamara Cofman Wittes, a deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. Wittes argued that changing the oppressive behavior of undemocratic regimes required “direct engagement” with those regimes, and claimed that the United States regularly includes human rights concerns in its discussions with governments in the Middle East. She also pointed to the administration’s record in Yemen and Egypt in particular, claiming that the US has “sustained, and even increased its support for Egyptian civil society institutions,” and that the US has helped to foster a “diverse, vibrant civil society in Yemen.”

But Amal Basha, the Yemen-based chair of the Sisters Arab Forum, painted a very different picture of the situation on the ground in her native country. “Everything in Yemen is deteriorating…except for the security apparatus.” She criticized a proliferation of security agencies in Yemen, and linked that complaint to a critique of US policy in Yemen, saying that American strategy in Yemen remains too focused on military operations.

Citing two US cruise missile strikes and coordinated military raids that allegedly killed dozens of civilians in December, Basha said that she and her colleagues were outraged “when we read in the newspaper that Obama made a call to the Yemeni president to ‘congratulate’ him on the operation.” Basha also noted a more recent cruise missile strike on a Yemeni village in June, which The Independent of London says killed 41 civilians, including 21 children and 14 women . Basha suggested that the US and Yemeni governments’ focus on anti-terror measures has compromised the United States’ overall nation- and state-building objectives in Yemen, and harmed America’s credibility in the Arab world generally.

Assistant secretary Posner acknowledged the concerns put forward by Hassan and Basha. “We need to have a unified human rights policy in this government,” Posner said. “It’s taken a while for us to adopt it in a global sense.”

International Rundown-DC

Latest:

Biggest in my book: The US is the top country for targeted killings in the world-UN says

International Headlines

CNN: Another Gaza showdown is in the offing

BBC: Catholic Bishop stabbed to death in Turkey

Ukraine rejected all measures to join NATO

Deadly shooting in Belgian court

Slackman: Fatalities on the Gaza Flotilla said to Include US Citizen

The Ayatollah pardons 81 in the opposition as “good will”

FREEDOM OF PRESS: One of the U.S.’s most-qualified critics is no longer embedded in Afghanistan because, he says, the government didn’t like his reporting. Read on the Atlantic

Is Afghanistan ‘Medievil’?” – Thomas Barfield, “Foreign Policy”

Is this Japan’s new Prime Minister?

Gates rejected from visiting China–could have to do with Taiwan

Taliban attacks the peace jirga (surprised?)

Ukraine: Banned from protesting at “100 days of Shame and Betrayal”

Worst of the Worst countries report by Freedom House released

In Washington

All about India: Obama Participates in U.S. India Strategic Dialogue reception at the State Department

Biden is scheduled to meet with senior officials on Iraq

Clinton opens the plenary session of the U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue with Indian Foreign Minister S. M. Krishna at the Department of State.

The Teach Africa Summit: More than 300 high school student leaders from across the U. S. will meet with ambassadors, policymakers, and professionals during the Teach Africa Leadership Summit, a day-long Africa immersion and leadership program.
SAIS hosts “One Hundred Days of Yanukovych: Where Is Ukraine Heading?” Taras Kuzio, 2010 Austrian Marshall Plan Foundation Fellow at CTR, chaired the discussion

USIP:  Held a talk today on: Could Pakistan’s Private Sector Promote Stability and Peace?

TOMORROW: Wilson Center hosts: Iran-A Year of Reckoning with Iran experts

Obama Signs Legislation in Support of Press Freedom Around the World

This story came from the L.A. Times by Michael Muskal

Essentially, Obama signed a statement in support of press freedom named after Daniel Pearl, a journalist who was brutally murdered on assignment in Pakistan. Reports after the signing say that Obama ironically didn’t take questions from the press after the event. The act would require the State Department to do a full analysis of press rights in a country when doing human rights reports. This should naturally be included and continues to be a key determinant of a country’s overall freedom. Check out this year’s 2010 Freedom in the World report by Freedom House–they include media too. And as always, go to CPJ for the latest on press freedom violations.

The story is below from the LA Times:

“President Obama on Monday signed a law designed to encourage the expansion of press freedoms — abroad.

Named after slain journalist Daniel Pearl, the law is designed to cast a spotlight on how foreign governments treat the media. The act requires the State Department in its annual human rights report to identify countries where there were violations of freedom of the press and what role the government may have had in the violations.

The measure “sends a strong message from the United States government and from the State Department that we are paying attention to how other governments are operating when it comes to the press,” Obama said at the White House signing ceremony. The law “puts us clearly on the side of journalistic freedom.”

Pearl, a Wall Street Journal reporter, was beheaded by militants in Pakistan in 2002. Attending the ceremony were his family, including his widow and their son, Adam Daniel, who turns 8 on May 28. Also attending were congressional sponsors including Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) and Rep. Adam Schiff  (D-Burbank).

The Obama administration has a had a bit of roller-coaster ride with the media over the last few months as a once pleasant relationship has cooled. Earlier this month, there were complaints at a White House briefing that Obama hasn’t had a recent formal news conference. After other complaints, the president visited with reporters on Air Force One during a Midwest swing.

According to the pool report on Monday’s signing, one reporter attempted to ask the president a question about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Speaking of press freedoms … ” CBS News correspondent Chip Reid began.”

“You are free to ask them,” the president said of the right to question. But he avoided the oil issue with, “I’m not doing a press conference today.”

Roxana Saberi and Activists in D.C. Stress Human Rights as June 12 Approaches

I had the opportunity to meet and interview journalist Roxana Saberi, who spent time reporting from Iran before she was arrested and put in jail for 100 days in Evin Prison. Since her release, she has been advocating human rights in Iran and speaking out for her fellow inmates who have been persecuted for speaking against the government, practicing their faith and affiliating with the West. I also had the great opportunity of meeting many other human rights activists who are supporting international human rights, like Hadi Ghaemi and Rudi Bakhtiar. Below is my story

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My interview with Baha’i International Lawyer and Author Sovaida Maani Ewing on the Persecution of Baha’is

My story on the persecution of the Baha’is in Iran has made it way to the “Watchdog” page on Radio Free Europe’s Web site. The U.S. Baha’i Web site also picked it up.

I had a great time interviewing Sovaida last week and we spoke for about an hour on human rights issues and the U.S.’s role in advocating those rights. If you are unfamiliar of the religious persecution that’s been going on for decades in the country, this article might open your eyes. Many people think the persecution began this summer or is limited to political dissidents. However, Baha’is are forbidden to be involved in politics and are not affiliated with the “green movement.” Have a look!