Iran obscures truth to justify stoning execution


Truth is frail; it is malleable and abstract. As a result,  it can be manipulated to stand as the truth, yet be anything but it.

Yesterday, I wrote on the  imminent execution of Teresa Lewis in Virginia, sentenced to death for hatching a plan with her lover and another man to murder her husband for insurance benefits.

Her story caught more than just my eye. From the Guardian:

Iran accused the US of human rights violations today over plans by the state of Virginia to execute a woman for the first time in nearly 100 years, despite claims that she has severe learning difficulties.

The state-media in Iran has drawn parrallels between the case of Lewis and the much-publicized stoning sentence of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani:

Iranian news agencies highlighted similarities between the cases, reporting that Lewis, like Ashtiani, had been convicted of “having an extramarital relationship”. MPs criticised the US for sentencing Lewis to death while sparing the lives of the killers – as happened in Ashtiani’s case.

Irrespective of geographical location, a prosecution of a criminal act can never be proved with 100 percent certainty. Thus, there is always a possibility, however slight, of a wrongful conviction. A wrongful conviction supplemented with capital punishment as the sentence is tantamount to murder. But from what is known of the case of Ashtiani, her case differs greatly from that of Lewis.

Punishment for Adultery

In the United States, there is no death penalty for the act of adultery. In Iran, there is. Article 82 and 83  of the Iranian Penal Code state, respectively.

The penalty for adultery in the following cases shall be death, regardless of the age or marital status of the culprit: (1) Adultery with one’s consanguineous relatives (close blood relatives forbidden to each other by religious law)…

Adultery in the following cases shall be punishable by stoning:…(2)Adultery of a married woman with an adult man provided the woman is permanently married and has had intercourse with her husband and is able to do so again.

Ashtiani’s sentence was originally for “having an illicit relationship outside marriage”, which under Iranian law is punishable by death under certain circumstances, such as having an affair with a close relative. Faced with international pressure to halt Ashtiani’s execution, the wheels of the Iranian propaganda machine were put into motion with a “confession” on state television:

[Ashtiani] told an interviewer that she was an accomplice to the murder of her husband and that she had an extramarital relationship with her husband’s cousin.

Iran deflected outrage; the death penalty for murder, after all, is still practiced in western nations, such as the United States.

Iran’s latest venture into washing away Ashtiani with propaganda is using Teresa Lewis’ case to leverage themselves onto a higher moral plane.

Iran has no justification in criticizing the U.S. as it relates to Lewis’ execution;  there is a death penalty for adultery in Iran and Ashtiani was originally sentenced to death because of adultery. Lewis was sentenced to the death penalty for murder–not adultery.

Of course, Iran twisted reality by changing her conviction from adultery to murder. Under Iran’s own facts, Lewis and Ashtiani are direct parallels.

Yet Iran has a point, even if the motive behind is a self-serving excuse to stone a woman to death.

The Death Penalty’s Fatal Flaw

In Lewis’ case there was expert testimony diagnosing her with “dependent personality disorder”, which means she cannot partake in even the most basic tasks without the aid of another. Thus, the reasoning goes, it would be highly unlikely that she could have orchestrated a complex murder for life insurance benefits. The U.S. justice system did not believe that tack of reasoning and now Lewis is set to die by lethal injection.

Despite which story one may deem more plausible –that Lewis is just bringing up these mental defenses to get out of the death penalty, or that she really is not sufficiently culpable for it–there is the distinct possibility that the latter theory is reality. The dilemma is that the harm an equivocation entails is great, yet turn it the other way, and there is no harm at all; Lewis would simply live out her days in prison, in all likelihood.

Although to this westerner’s eyes, it appears certain that Ashtiani is being stoned to death for the act of adultery,  the murder scenario is possible, however unlikely.

The United States and Iranian governments should genuinely acknowledge the frailty of truth and halt the executions of Lewis and Ashtiani, respectively.


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