When I first heard about Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery, I was devastated for her. I can hardly imagine what she must be going through right now. But, sadly, her story felt all too familiar to me. My name is Tala Raassi, and I am a 27-year-old Persian-born fashion designer. Growing up in Iran, I heard stories like Ms. Ashtiani's all the time. I even faced an unjust punishment myself, although it was nowhere near as awful as what Ms. Ashtiani is going through. You may remember my story from the May issue of Marie Claire — I received 40 excruciating lashes for wearing a miniskirt in the privacy of a friend's home at my 16th birthday party. But I was released quickly and lived to tell the tale. If we don't act quickly, Ms. Ashtiani may not be so lucky.
I don't know a lot about politics, and it's not a focus of mine. I'm also not a super-religious person, although I strongly believe in doing good in this world and in being kind to and forgiving of others. I don't know all the laws and rules of every region and country in the world. But I have a strong belief in fundamental things that are right and wrong. As I said, what happened to me 11 years ago was absolutely nothing in comparison with what is happening to Ms. Ashtiani, but given my background and my desire to fight for what's right, I'd like to weigh in on the issue — and I strongly encourage all of you to contribute to the discussion in the comments below.
It is not easy to be a woman living in the part of the world I come from. Your life and options are very limited, especially if you are poor. There are many harsh traditions, laws, and rules, and if you break them, punishments can be extreme and extraordinarily unfair by Western standards. In Ms. Ashtiani's case, she was convicted several years ago of murder and adultery, though she was later acquitted of the murder. Despite the fact that the supposedly adulterous incident occurred after the death of her husband, Ms. Ashtiani has been on death row in Iran since 2006 to be executed by stoning. Last week, the government suspended her stoning sentence, but many suspect she is in extreme danger of being sentenced to death again for the same murder for which she was already acquitted. She confessed to being involved in the murder last month after two days of torture.
Try to picture this for a moment. Put yourself in Ms. Ashtiani's shoes. Can you imagine waiting for four years to be executed by stoning for a crime you didn't commit, in a place where your words literally mean nothing to the law? Can you understand what it would be like to be forced to admit guilt to a crime punishable by death, because you couldn't take the torture anymore? Can you feel how awful it would be to spend all day and night for years waiting for your impending punishment?
Ms. Ashtiani's case became an international campaign for basic human rights when her children brought her situation to the world's attention. I cannot comment on her guilt or innocence, but an environment that discounts someone's testimony just because they are a woman, and one where torture is routinely used to coerce confessions, cannot be trusted to find the truth. And, just as importantly, the punishment of stoning is brutal and inhumane — many times, it takes an excruciatingly long time to kill someone by stoning. They are maimed and suffer painfully before they die.
This kind of unfairness exists everywhere — children watch as their parents are murdered by thugs and terrorists, governments convulse in violent attempts to silence or control others, and judicial systems endorse barbaric, primitive punishments that should have been abandoned centuries ago and turn a blind eye on justice.
Where is the moral outrage at all this? Where are the people in the streets screaming for justice for a lonely woman accused of adultery and complicity in her husband's death but tortured and ignored by the legal system? Where is the outrage at the beatings, the honor killings, the mass murders of innocents? What kind of human would sentence or carry out the lashing of a woman who never received a fair trial or hearing? I don't know. But I do know that we should have nothing to do with the monsters of the world — and we should call them out for what they have done.
Please keep Ms. Ashtiani and her children in your thoughts and prayers. Talk about it. If you hear a story like this, don't forget about it — make sure it is heard. Women like Ms. Ashtiani are in a place with no hope, they have no rights, their words are treated as silence, and they are tortured and forced to do and say things you cannot even imagine. It is time to stop this, and the only way it will stop is if the women of the world join together in a chorus too loud to ignore.
Watch the video above for more information, and sign the petition at FreeSakineh.org to help.