Iran Squelches News On Woman Sentenced To Death
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
One of the big stories that came out of Iran this past year has been the case of a woman sentenced to death by stoning. Her name is Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani. In 2006, an Iranian court found her guilty of adultery. But after an international outcry, Iran earlier this year said the court had also convicted her of murdering her husband, and the punishment would in fact be death by hanging, not stoning.
For more on this story, we contacted Azadeh Moaveni, a contributing writer for Time magazine. She's been tracking the case. Welcome.
Ms. AZADEH MOAVENI (Contributing Writer, Time Magazine): Thank you for having me.
MONTAGNE: Now, why in the big picture has this case gotten so much publicity in the West?
Ms. MOAVENI: In Europe especially it's become a pretty huge story. I think that's partly because the campaign that's been organized to stop her execution has very effective in reaching out to celebrities and high echelons of state, getting people like Carla Bruni-Sarkozy on their side.
And so it's been, in terms of public relations, very, very well engineered, pretty skillful use of social networking sites. It's been very big on Facebook. I think nearly half a million people have signed the campaign online. And I think it also highlights Iran's human rights record.
MONTAGNE: Well, has anyone been able to get to the remote part of Iran where she lives to report on this? I mean, is it all what the Iranian government says versus what her defenders say?
Ms. MOAVENI: Well, her son, who was very active in starting this campaign to free her, was one of the main and only voices who was conveying what Sakineh herself said to the West. There was a news blackout, so Iranian journalists weren't reporting this story. So it was very hard to get any sense, an objective reported sense, of what the other players might have been thinking.
Two German journalists went - traveled to Tabriz and spoke to her son and tried to report on this, and the Iranian government has detained them and hasn't permitted them to come out with anything that they had gathered.
MONTAGNE: Then in a word, no I mean there has been no independent reporting of this.
Ms. MOAVENI: No, no, not at all.
MONTAGNE: And what about people inside Iran? Have they finally gotten wind of this story? Are they interested?
Ms. MOAVENI: People are now - yes, they are hearing about it and they're hearing about it mainly through outside sources, Internet news websites. And I think this is partly why the Iranian government is so sensitive about how to handle this, 'cause Iranians right now are so frustrated with their government's basic inability to deal with their daily concerns.
In the last month, for example, pollution has been so high and so toxic in Tehran that the government ordered people to stay indoors; inflation at 30 percent; cuts of subsidies. So people are feeling so frustrated with the government, and I think the government, feeling that it's got this crisis of efficiency, doesn't want people seeing Iran paraded before the international media as this barbaric country that's concerned with stoning women but not at all concerned with making sure that families can afford to feed their children.
MONTAGNE: Just briefly, what is the status of Sakineh Ashtiani? Is she still under a death sentence?
Ms. MOAVENI: She is still under a death sentence. It's not clear that she will be executed, because the judicial authorities have said that she might be spared execution. It's highly unlikely at this point that she will be stoned. The head of the High Council for Human Rights in Iran said that she would be spared stoning. But it does seem unlikely that the government will be able to backpedal from executing her.
MONTAGNE: Azadeh Moaveni is author of the memoir "Honeymoon in Tehran," and she joined us from Cambridge, England.
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