Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Sakineh scandal

French essayist Bernard-Henry Levy and President Nicolas Sarkozy have mobilized French public opinion to save an Iranian woman, accused of adultery, from being stoned to death. Overcome with emotion, the French did not take the time to verify the allegations, until actor Dieudonné M’bala M’bala traveled to Teheran. Once in the Iranian capital, everything turned out to be false. Thierry Meyssan addresses the spectacular and reckless manipulation that took place.

The calls for Koran burnings by certain US clergymen on the occasion of the ninth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, shook the Muslim world. The reactions to the announcement differ according to the culture. In the western world, it is regarded as a provocation which should not be overdramatized. True, the Koran is a sacred book, but it’s only paper, after all. Inversely, in the Islamic world, the burning of the Koran is perceived as an attempt to disconnect man from the sacred teachings and to deny him salvation. This gives rise to uncontrollable emotional reactions which are considered by the West as religious hysteria. Nothing like it could ever happen in Europe, and much less in France, a country steeped in militant secularism for more than a century. And yet …

Mobilizing public opinion

French author Bernard-Henri Levy [1] recently alerted the French public to the case of Sakineh Mohammad-Ashtanni, a young Iranian woman reportedly condemned to death by stoning for committing adultery. He launched a signature campaign through the Internet to put pressure on the Iranian authorities, urging them to stop this barbaric act.

In close touch with both the victim’s son, a resident of Tabriz, and the victim’s lawyer, Javid Hustan Kian, who has recently settled in France to flee the Iranian regime, Mr. Levy didn’t skimp on any of the details: stoning - a practice which was interrupted through a moratorium - has been revived on President Ahmadinejad’s initiative. Ms. Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani could be put to death at the end of Ramadan. Meanwhile, the prison warden, riled by the media scandal, ordered her to be lashed 99 times.

The French essayist concentrates his attacks on the mode of execution, observing: “Why stoning? Isn’t there another way of killing in Iran? Because it is the most abominable of all. Because an aggression against a person’s face, a deluge of stones cast at an innocent and bare face, the refinement of cruelty to the point of encoding the size of the stones to guarantee the victim’s protracted suffering, represent a rare composite of inhumanity and barbarity. And because this way of obliterating a face, of exploding the flesh and reducing it to a bloody magma, of bombarding it until it transforms into a blob, symbolizes much more than a simple execution. Stoning is not just a death sentence. Stoning is the extermination of a flesh that was put on trial, albeit somewhat retroactively, for having been a flesh, and that flesh in particular: the flesh of a young and beautiful woman, one who was both loved and a lover, who possibly also experienced the happiness of loving and of being loved.”

President Sarkozy endorsed Levy’s allegations during the annual conference of French Ambassadors [2]. After his speech he declared that the condemned woman would henceforth fall under “under the responsibility of France”.

Numerous associations and high-profile personalities quickly joined in the movement and more than 140 000 signatures were collected. France’s Prime Minister François Fillon turned up in the newsroom of the main public television channel to express his feelings of solidarity with Sakineh, “sister of us all”. Meanwhile, former French Secretary for human rights Rama Yade stated that from that moment on France was considering this case as a “personal affair”.


Although they may not know it, the emotive reaction of the French people is tightly associated with the religious side of their collective subconscious. Whether Christian or not, the French have been marked by the story of Jesus and the adulteress. Lets us briefly recall the myth [3].

The Pharisees, a group of arrogant Jews, wanted to put Jesus in an embarrassing situation. They brought a woman to him who had been caught committing adultery.

According to the laws of Moses, the woman should have been stoned, but that cruel prescription had luckily been abandoned. The Pharisees asked Jesus to decide what had to be done. If he approved of her stoning, they would regard him as a fanatic. If, on the contrary, he refused to punish her, he would be accused of going against the law. But Jesus saved the woman by affirming: “let he who is without sin, cast the first stone”. Jesus reversed the dilemma: if the Pharisees stone her, it is because they think of themselves as pure. If they don’t, they are the ones violating the law. And, the book states: “they gradually withdrew, beginning with the elders”. In western thought, this myth constitutes the cornerstone of the separation between civil and religious law. The adulteress committed a sin and is therefore accountable only to God. She did not commit a crime and therefore cannot be judged by man.

The French people see the announced stoning of Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani as an outrageous regression. The Islamic Republic of Iran must be a religious regime enforcing the Law of Moses as revised by the Koran, the Sharia. The Mollahs must be a bunch of phallocratic fanatics who repress women’s love affairs outside marriage and keep them subject to men. Blinded by their own obscurantism, they even go so far as to kill them in the most horrible way.

This is what should be considered as collective religious hysteria since, in such circumstances, the normal behavior of sensible people should have been to verify the accusations, something that no one had bothered to do all this time.


Having himself signed the aforementioned petition, the leader of France’s Anti-Zionist Party, Dieudonné M’bala M’bala - who happened to be in Tehran for a film project – was willing to mediate in favor of the condemned woman. He requested an audience and was received by Ali Zadeh, vice-president of the Judicial Council and spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice.

The interview was truly a model of its kind. While Mr. Zadeh was wondering whether his interlocutor, a humorist by profession, was in fact joking when voicing his concerns, M’bala kept asking the Iranian official to repeat the answers to his questions, since he could hardly believe he had been the prey of such a gross manipulation.

After overthrowing the dictatorship of Shah Reza Pahlevi, the Islamic Republic made it a priority to put an end to authoritarian abuses by establishing the rule of law in the most rigorous way possible. For those cases tried in a criminal court, an appeal mechanism has existed in the Iranian judicial system for a long time. At any rate, the Court of Appeals, as a rule, automatically verifies the legality of the procedure. In this respect, the Iranian judicial system offers superior guarantees to those of French courts, and the mistakes are far less frequent.

This being said, the convictions are still particularly harsh. In particular, the death penalty is applied. Instead of diminishing the amount of convictions, the Islamic Republic has chosen to restrict their enforcement. The forgiveness of the victims or their families is enough to obtain the annulment of the execution. Due to the existence of that provision and to its widespread application, the presidential pardon does not exist.

Capital punishment is often pronounced, but is rarely executed. The Iranian judicial system provides for a delay of 5-years before executing the sentence, trusting that the victim will forgive the offender who will thus be pardoned and immediately liberated. In practice, executions are applied mainly to big drug traffickers, terrorists and child murderers. The death penalty is normally executed by hanging in public.

There are reasons to hope that the Islamic revolution will continue making progress and may soon abolish the death penalty.

In any case, it is a fact that the Iranian Constitution recognizes the separation of powers. The judicial system is independent and president Ahmadinejad doesn’t have any say in a judicial decision, whichever it may be.


In the specific case of Sakineh, everything that was reported by Bernard-Henry Levy and endorsed by President Sarkozy is false.

- 1. This lady has not been tried for adultery but for murder. As it happens, there is no conviction for adultery in Iran. Instead of revoking this type of incrimination, the law has subordinated the establishment of the facts to a series of conditions which are impossible to satisfy. “Four people have to witness the adultery at the same time” [4].

- 2. The Republic of Islam does not recognize the Sharia, but – only and exclusively- the law passed by the representatives of the people sitting in Parliament.

- 3. Ms. Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani administered a drug to her husband and got her lover, Issa Tahen, to kill him while he was asleep. The “diabolical lovers” have already been tried in the first and secondary instances and were sentenced to death in both. The Court did not establish any discrimination between the two genders. It is important to note that the indictment does not even mention the intimate relations between the accused, precisely because it is impossible to prove they actually existed according to the Iranian law, even when the family members attest to such a relationship.

- 4. The death penalty is likely to be executed by hanging. Stoning - which still prevailed under the Shah’s rule and was maintained for a number of years after his overthrow - has been abolished by the Islamic Revolution. Irritated by the statements of Bernard-Henry Levy and Nicolas Sarkozy, the vice-president of the Iranian Judicial Council told Dieudonné M’bala M’bala that he defies these Zionist figures to find one single text of contemporary Iranian law that contemplates stoning.

- 5. The sentence is currently being examined by the Court of Appeals, which has to scrutinize the legality of each and every detail of the procedure. If any irregularity is found, the trial will be declared null and void. This examination procedure triggers the provisional suspension of the sentence. Since the final judgment has not yet been pronounced, the defendant still enjoys the presumption of innocence, and furthermore, there was never any question of executing her at the end of Ramadan.

- 6. Ms. Mohammadi-Ashtiani’s defense attorney, Mr. Javid Hustan Kian, is an impostor. He is linked with the son of the accused, but has never been appointed by Ms. Mohammadi-Astiani and has never been in touch with her. Javid Hustan Kian is member of the People’s Mujahidin, a terrorist organization that enjoys the protection of Israel and of the neo-conservatives [5].

- 7. The son of the accused lives generally in Tabriz. He is free to have as many telephone conversations with Mr. Levy as he likes in order to denigrate his own country, which denotes the free and democratic nature of his government.

In sum, nothing, absolutely nothing, of what Levy and Sarkozy have said about Ms. Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani’s story is true. Bernard-Henry Levy might have repeated, in good faith, false accusations to buttress his crusade against Iran. However, President Sarkozy can hardly resort to the same alibi. Officials of the French Foreign Service, the most prestigious in the world, must surely have provided him with all the relevant reports on the case. Therefore, Sarkozy deliberately lied to French public opinion, probably to be able to justify post facto the harsh sanctions adopted against Iran to the detriment of the French economy itself, already seriously affected by his policies.

Thierry Meyssan is a French political analyst, founder and chairman of the Voltaire Network and the Axis for Peace conference. He publishes columns dealing with international relations in daily newspapers and weekly magazines in Arabic, Spanish and Russian. Last books published in English: 9/11 the Big Lie and Pentagate.

[1] See our file on Bernard-Henri Levy, Réseau Voltaire
[2] Speech by Nicolas Sarkozy at the annual Ambassadors of France’ Conference, Voltaire Network, 25 August 2010.
[3] In this context, the term myth must be understood in the most neutral sense. Whether or not one believes in the sacred scriptures, the story of the adulterous woman is part of western symbolism.
[4] For the same type of disinformation, see Pour diaboliser l’Iran, « Rue 89 » confond crimes pédophiles et homosexualité (To demonize Iran, "Rue 89" amalgamates crimes of pedophelia with homosexuality), Réseau Voltaire, 13 July 2007.
[5] See our file Mujahedin-e Khalq, Voltaire Network.