Belfast Telegraph

A tale of two women who were both denied justice

High-profile cases show Iran is not immune to international pressure, says Patrick Corrigan

Over recent months, Amnesty International has been highlighting the plight of two women sentenced to death in Iran.

Both of them have suffered incredible injustices, but their stories are actually very different.

While one of them has received a great deal of publicity, the other has failed to attract the attention her case deserves.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a mother-of-two, was convicted of 'adultery while being married' and was sentenced to death by stoning.

Following a worldwide outcry that included human rights campaigners, politicians and even movie stars, the Iranian Embassy in London announced on July 8 that Ms Ashtiani would in fact not be stoned, but still faced the death penalty. It's been reported since, that she's also been sentenced to 99 lashes in prison for 'spreading corruption and indecency' after 'allowing' an unveiled picture of herself to be published in The Times.

That she no longer faces stoning demonstrates the importance of protesting Iran's human rights violations, but the fact that Ms Ashtiani still faces flogging and death shows there's more to be done.

The second woman, Zeynab Jalalian, is a 27-year-old ethnic Kurdish political activist sentenced to death after being convicted of 'enmity against God'. Imprisoned in Tehran, her conviction stems from her alleged membership of a Kurdish armed opposition group.

She speaks of torture and sexual abuse whilst detained and was reportedly denied access to her lawyer during her trial. The Iranian authorities have remained intractable in her case and she has not attracted the same media attention as Ashtiani. Although execution by hanging may be less 'sensational' than by stoning, and although convictions on politically motivated charges may seem less deplorable than for adultery, it can be argued that Jalalian's case raises more profound concerns about the Iranian authorities' abuse of their citizens.

The fact is, in Iran the death penalty is increasingly used to crush any form of political dissent. Thus, Jalalian's case is far more emblematic of the government's pernicious abuse of power, and why the international outcry for her should be as loud as for Ashtiani.

For the past several years, the Iranian authorities have been engaged in a brutal and persistent campaign against Iranian civil society and activists of all kinds - women's rights defenders, journalists, trade union activists, students, teachers, and those advocating for the rights of ethnic and linguistic minorities. This campaign has greatly escalated in the past year since the disputed presidential election of June 2009. As part of their effort to stamp out any form of dissent, the Iranian's see civil society activists as security threats. The merciless persecution of these activists is co-ordinated at the highest levels of the Iranian government.

Kurdish activists have borne the brunt of repression; four Kurdish political prisoners were executed in May and at least 15 other Kurdish political prisoners are on death row.

Anyone interested in human rights should continue to speak out against Iran's grotesque array of punishments. However, we should not be distracted by the sensational cases at the expense of those like Jalalian's - a victim of the Iranian authorities' pervasive and concerted effort to terrorise the entire population into submission.

To take action on these cases and others visit www.amnesty.org.uk/ni.

Patrick Corrigan is Northern Ireland director of Amnesty International

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