Former President of Brazil Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former Minister of Women’s Affairs of Iran Mahnaz Afkhami, actor Michael Douglas, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, and singer Annie Lennox, are among the over 137,000 people from around the globe who have signed a web based petition to save Sakineh Mohammadi Ashntiani.

The petition on www.freesakineh.org is directed to the leaders of Iran and calls for the immediate release of the 43-year old woman who was sentenced to be stoned to death for an alleged act of adultery.

The petition is the brainchild of a Toronto businesswoman Heather Reisman, CEO of Indigo Books. Reisman began this initiative, along with ten “special women” whom she contacted.

Reisman told the Winnipeg Jewish Review said she became motivated to take action after having just attended “ an evening with [nobel laureate and human rights advocate] Elie Wiesel. Wiesel says that ‘the opposite of love is not hate…it is indifference. His words echoed in my mind.”

Reisman said that night she felt she “could not go to bed.” Instead she sent a spur of the moment -mail to ten female friends “asking them to join me in doing something to help Ashtiani.”

Reisman wrote at 11:10 p.m. on Monday July 5 to her ten friends “Somehow, notwithstanding the sense of potential futility, I feel we must try and do something.” Included in this group of women were online publisher Arianna Huffington and Mary Matlin, a political consultant to former United States president George W. Bush.

Within an hour of sending her initial e-mail, Reisman heard back from each recipient, and “before we knew it we had a website put up called www.freesakineh.org. Each of us began sending emails to our network of contacts, and soon enough we had amassed thousands of signatures,” Reisman said.

Resiman who noted that within hours of the beginning of her initiative to help free Ashtiani, 23-year-old Nayab Tahir living in Norway created a Facebook group for Ashtiani.

In 2006, Ashtiani was convicted in Iran of having “illicit relationships”, purely based on her husband’s accusation. She denied the accusation and only after receiving 99 lashes, did she admit to the charges. Since then, the 43-year old has been in jail where she recanted the confession she made under the duress of the lashing. Recently, Ashtiani was retried in court and was convicted of the crime a second time and sentenced to be stoned to death.

As Reisman told the Winnipeg Jewish Review “Stoning [a person to death]is inhuman under any circumstances, but the fact that Ashtiani had already been lashed 99 times, made it even more aggregious.”

Ashtiani is currently being held on death row in Tabriz Prison, north-west Iran, and faces imminent execution. Around July 7th, following international protests, officials in Tabriz asked the head of Iran’s judiciary to agree that her sentence of stoning to death be converted to execution by other means.

On 10 July, the head of Iran’s High Council for Human Rights said that her case would be reviewed, although he affirmed that Iranian law permits execution by stoning.

The petition on www.freesakineh.org calls on the Iranian authorities to clarify her current legal status, demands that the authorities enact legislation that bans stoning as a legal punishment, and eliminates other forms of the death penalty for “adultery” such as fogging or imprisonment.

Little would be known of Ashtiani’s case, if not for her son and daughter, who posted an open letter on the Internet appealing to the world to do something.

When asked how she decided that a petition such as this would help advance Ashtiani’s plight, Reisman explained that three of the women she initially reached out to are “Iranians living in exile, who gave guidance and advice on our course of action.”

One of those woman was Shirin Ebadi, a lawyer, human rights activist, and Nobel Laureate who now lives in England, after recently being forced to flee Iran. According to Reisman, who described Elbadi as having risked her life to “ work tirelessly on behalf of women in Iran,” Elbadi “ said right from the beginning that the more noise you make about Ashtiani, the better.”

Another woman in Reisman’s group of ten was Marina Nemat, an Iranian who immigrated to Canada after being arrested and thrown into Evin prison in Tehran for “nothing more than asking why math was no longer being taught at her school.” After being tortured and raped for over two years, Nemat “narrowly escaped being tied to a stake and shot,” said Reisman.
The other Iranian woman Reisman initially contacted is a literature professor, Azar Nafisi, who lives in Washington D.C. after leaving Iran.

“Nafisi found a way to continue to share the great works of literature with a few of her students after that activity became a severely punishable offence by the Iranian regime of Ayatollah Khomeini,” said Reisman.

Within a number of days, the petition initiated by Reisman and her group of women was being translated into different languages.
“A member of my group Louise Dennys, a Random House Publisher reached out to a leading publisher in Brazil who was able to get it translated into Portugese. It has been translated into French and there is a Farsi translation that is being worked on. We also are going to get it translated into Arabic,” Reisman said.

Although Ashtiani’s case has been taken up by other groups such as Amnesty International, Reisman said “We think it is helpful to raise our voice as well. The more noise the better.”

Winnipeg’s Gail Asper, who has been spearheading the establishment of the Canadian Human Rights Museum has also been publicly seeking support for Reisman’s petition. In a letter July 23, 2010 printed in the Winnipeg Free Press, Asper wrote:

“The website established by Heather Reisman, one of the Canadian Museum of Human Rights’ lead supporters, with her petition, is: http://freesakineh.org/. I hope you will sign this petition and, as important, I am asking for your real help. Please send it to your network and implore them to get involved.”

To sign the petition, go to http://freesakineh.org/

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