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2009/08/21

In memoriam: Atefeh Rajabi - murdered by the Iranian judiciary

(Most of this is borrowed from the Telegraph article  Death and the maiden in Iran, July 2004.)
Atefeh Rajabi appears to have been a fairly normal 16-year-old, but with an unfortunately bad family background. She was probably sulky, disobedient, and eager to have sex. In London, those attributes could earn lectures from parents and teachers on the importance of acting responsibly and not being offensive.
In the city of Neka in Iran, where Atefeh Rajabi came from, they got her hauled up in front of a judge, where she was charged and found guilty of "acts incompatible with chastity". The judge in the Islamic Sharia court ruled that the appropriate penalty was death. Her sentence was confirmed by Iran's Supreme Court.
The justice machine of Iran having thus run its proper course, on 15th August, 2004, the girl was hung from a crane in the main square of Neka, in full public view, in order to keep "society safe from acts against public morality", and her young, insignificant life was snuffed out.


This was state-sponsored barbarism in action - based on a non-secular goverment, which is run according to the state's fascist religious ideology and dogma.
Sharia law, the Islamic code governing punishments in Iran, states that:
  • Unmarried people who have sex should be punished with 100 lashes. That was the chastisement meted out to the single man with whom Atefeh was accused of "committing acts incompatible with chastity".
  • Married women who have sexual relations with someone who is not their husband should, according to Sharia, be stoned to death - although Iran's chief justice, apparently revolted by the cruelty of pelting women with rocks, ruled two years ago that stonings should be abandoned.
Hanging is not prescribed for either category of transgressor. So what was the judge (one Haji Rezaie) doing sentencing an "unchaste" 16-year-old to hang? As justification, he said that she had "undressed in court" and had a "sharp tongue". However, it seems that all she had done was to take off her headscarf and insist that she was the victim of an older man's advances, and, in any event, even if she had stripped naked and called the judge a "fat ignorant bastard", those actions would hardly merit death, even under Islamic law. Nevertheless, the judge was so outraged that he decided he would personally put the noose round the child's neck.

That disgraceful and disgusting "punishment" excited a great deal of condemnation in Iran among reformists, but not produced little comment in the Western media. Amnesty International issued a statement expressing outrage at the execution (the tenth of a child in Iran since 1990) - but no British newspaper or television station reported it, and it received similarly little news reporting/comment here in New Zealand.

Why not? The two extremes of pro- and anti-Muslim sentiment in Britain and New Zealand are now united in not expecting even the most minimal ethical standards from Islamic countries such as Iran: the pros because they think that Islamic laws should not be criticised for fear of giving offence; the antis because they think all Muslims are just a bunch of irredeemable barbarians.

Those two extreme views seem to have infected media coverage. If it had happened in America - for example, imagine the response if a 16-year-old girl was executed for having sex in Texas - then it would be headline news, but this, because it happened in an Islamic state, was apparently too banal to count.

That attitude could guarantee that more children will suffer Atefeh's fate.

Of course, it suits Western governments - which are always pushing for greater trade links with God-forsaken places like Iran - just fine if people think that criticism of Islamic judges is inappropriate because standards are different. However, respecting Islam does not require accepting the judicial murder of 16-year-olds (or indeed anyone, of any age) for having sex. That is categorically wrong wherever it happens. We need Western governments, and a Western press and other news media, that say so.
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