Kobra Najjar is currently facing death by stoning. She is a 44-year-old Iranian woman whose husband subjected her to systematic violence during their marriage, and forced her into prostitution for 12 years in order to sustain his heroin addiction. A “client” of Kobra who sympathised with her plight murdered Kobra’s husband. He was sentenced to death for this murder. However, after enduring 100 lashes for fornication and serving eight years, Habib was released upon paying compensation. Kobra herself was charged with being an accomplice, and also with adultery - the prostitution her husband forced her into - for which she was sentenced to death by stoning. Two years ago, Kobra completed her eight-year sentence for being an accomplice. She now faces the sentence of stoning for the crime of adultery.
Adultery is the only crime in Iran that can incur the punishment of stoning, but all sexual intercourse outside marriage is illegal and can result in flogging, or hanging for the fourth offence. Despite Iran’s 2002 moratorium on death by stoning, sentences continue to be issued and have been implemented. According to latest reports, nine people currently await death by stoning, of whom at least eight are women.
The UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women reported in 2005 that 200 of the 397 women detained in Evin prison in Iran were under sentence of death for moral or sexual offences. This she attributed to “gender biases in the attitudinal and institutional structure of the country”. One consequence of the failure of the Iranian government to uphold and enforce gender equality is that women are disproportionately charged with sexual offences. For example, in adultery cases the Penal Code permits judges to pass sentences based on their own understanding of a case, even if there is insufficient or no evidence to support such a charge and this allows convictions based on subjective interpretations of what constitutes appropriate female behaviour.
Women’s rights campaigners in Iran have been advocating for an end to laws that discriminate against women and have been working to collect one million signatures in support of their goal. Members of the campaign for equality have been harassed by the authorities and worse. Delaram Ali, a 24-year old social worker, was sentenced in July 2007 to 34 months in prison and 10 lashes after participating in a peaceful demonstration calling for an end to discriminatory laws. International pressure resulted in a stay of punishment as of 21 November, but her prison term may yet be implemented. Other members of the campaign have been detained without charge or trial.
Iran is not the only country in the world to enshrine discrimination against women in its legal code. Governments continue to pledge their intention to rid their books of such laws and in June 2000 at a Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly held to review implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action even gave themselves a target date of 2005. That date has come and gone yet laws that explicitly discriminate against women remain in force in many countries of all political persuasions and in every corner of the world. Law is the most formal expression of government policy and governments which maintain and perpetuate these laws are sending a very clear message, including and especially to their own societies, regarding their view of gender equality. That is why Equality Now is calling for an end to all sex-discriminatory laws and a new UN mechanism to accelerate the pace of change. For more information on this and other campaigns, please visit www.equalitynow.org.
Equality Now, November 20, 2007