Human Rights Death and the maiden in Iran

Death and the maiden in Iran

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Sunday Telegraph: Atefeh Rajabi appears to have been a fairly normal 16-year-old: sulky, disobedient, and eager to have sex. In London, those attributes 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 comes from, they get you hauled up in front of a judge.
Atefeh’s typical teenage behaviour meant that she was charged and found guilty of “acts incompatible with chastity”. Sunday Telegraph

By Alasdair Palmer

Atefeh Rajabi appears to have been a fairly normal 16-year-old: sulky, disobedient, and eager to have sex. In London, those attributes 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 comes from, they get you hauled up in front of a judge.

Atefeh’s typical teenage behaviour meant that she was charged and found guilty of “acts incompatible with chastity”. The judge in the Islamic court ruled that the appropriate penalty was death. That’s right: death. Her sentence was confirmed by Iran’s Supreme Court.

Two weeks ago, on August 15, the 16-year-old 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”.

Sharia law, the Islamic code which is supposed to govern 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? He said that she had a “sharp tongue” and had “undressed in court”.

It seems that all she did was to take off her headscarf and insist that she was the victim of an older man’s advances: but 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” has excited a great deal of condemnation in Iran among the reformists. As far as I can see, it has not produced any comment here. 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 has reported this.

Why not? The two extremes of pro- and anti-Muslim sentiment in Britain 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 have infected media coverage. What would be headline news if it happened in America (can you imagine the response if a 16-year-old girl was executed for having sex in Texas?) is, because it happens in an Islamic state, apparently too banal to count.

That attitude guarantees that more children will suffer Atefeh’s fate. Of course, it suits our Government – which is pushing for greater trade links with our new-found ally, Iran – just fine if people think that criticism of Islamic judges is inappropriate because standards are different. But respecting Islam does not require accepting the judicial murder of 16-year-olds (or indeed anyone, of any age) for having sex. That’s wrong wherever it happens. We need a Government, and a press, that says so.

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