When I heard the news of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s conviction of adultery and her sentence to death by stoning, it reminded me of my character Zahra in The Stoning of Soraya M. based on a true story, written by Freidoune Sahebjam.
Watch the Trailer of The Stoning of Soraya M. Below
Stoning is the most barbaric act of punishment still performed in some rural Islamic societies around the world, including in Iran—and here it was, being Tweeted universally. The excruciating resemblance of Ashtiani’s case to the film was devastating to me and somewhat shocking to those who did not believe such punishment still exists in the world, even after having watched the film.
Ashtiani was convicted of having an affair with two men in 2006 and received 99 lashes. But the court later changed the conviction to “adultery while being married” and sentenced her to death by stoning. An enormous global campaign pressured the Iranian judiciary to reconsider her sentence, and now even the Brazilian president has gotten involved.
• Azadeh Moaveni: New Twist in Brutal Stoning CaseAshtiani’s son and daughter decided to seek domestic and international help by coming out and shedding light on their mother’s sentence, a courageous act that has never been heard of before in Iran. Usually the family of the convicts are so embarrassed that they would rather shy away from making a public statement. Presumably, having heard of the film, her children must have believed that there was a ray of hope if they shared their mother’s horrifying sentence with the world. Unlike my character Zahra, Ashtiani’s children are ahead of the authorities.
And indeed it did receive an overwhelming and prompt global response. In just a few days, hundreds of caring citizens of the world signed petitions condemning the act, echoing the horrifying voice of Ashtiani’s children. As a result her sentence has been reprieved or postponed for now. But she is still at the mercy of the judge who sent her to be stoned in the first place.
But stoning is not only reserved for women. I saw a gruesome VHS tape of a real stoning years ago. The victims were two young men convicted of homosexuality. The tape was said to have been shot by a single camera hidden in a shoulder sack and was smuggled out of Iran by the members of an opposition group. The men first received 80 lashes each. And then were vertically buried to their shoulders and were stoned to death by tens of young men, almost the same age as the victims. The stoning was supervised by a clergy man claiming to perform God`s will, in a seemingly abandoned village in post-revolutionary Iran.
Sadly stoning has been performed under the name of many sects and religions throughout history. But while most managed to get rid of this inhumane punishment, somehow, Islam did not. Brazilian president Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva (a key ally of Iran) may have offered Ashtiani refuge, but whether she can take the offer depends on the continuous support of the good-hearted individuals who are desperately trying to make the world a better place: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, all the humanitarian entities, and last but not least, the true believers in Islam.
Ashtiani has already been imprisoned for almost five years. She has received 99 lashes in public as her 17-year-old son helplessly watched, and despite all the international concern, she is still on death row. Her fate is still hanging in the air.
Shohreh Aghdashloo was born in Tehran, Iran, on May 11, 1952. In the 1970s at age 20, she achieved nationwide stardom in her homeland of Iran, starring in some prominent pictures such as Gozaresh (1977) (The Report) directed by the renowned Abbas Kiarostami, which won critics awards at the Moscow Film Festival. During the 1978 Islamic revolution, Aghdashloo left Iran for England and earned a B.A. degree in International Relations.
The Stoning of Soraya M. is available on Netflix, Blockbuster, or Amazon.