Save Kobra Najjar

An Iranian woman sentenced to stoning death for "adultery" has lost her last appeal for amnesty.

Published July 30, 2008 1:00PM (EDT)

Her name makes her sound like a bit like a supervillain; Iranian authorities are treating her like one. Equality Now has issued an urgent call for action on behalf of Kobra Najjar, 44, found guilty of "adultery" and sentenced to death by stoning. Iranian advocates working on her case say that she has "exhausted all domestic legal remedies" and could be executed at any moment.

Najjar's "adultery" was not exactly a furtive affair with the postman. According to Equality Now, she was forced into prostitution by an abusive husband in order to support his heroin addiction, and he was murdered by a client of Najjar's who sympathized with her plight. They both served eight years in prison, but the murderer was released after paying a fine and receiving 100 lashes. She, meanwhile, faces death for forced prostitution -- that is, "adultery."

Equality Now notes that seven other women and one man are currently facing similar sentences. Adultery is the only crime punishable by stoning in Iran. (At least there's always hanging.)

Stoning, it should be noted, violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) -- to which Iran is a party -- which prohibits cruel and inhuman punishment and limits application of the death penalty to "the most serious crimes." The U.N. Human Rights Committee has found that consensual sexual activity (and, we're guessing, being the victim of sexual coercion) is, well, not that.

There is hope, it is said, for saving Najjar without some sort of superhero strike force. As the Press Trust of India notes: "The head of the Iranian judiciary, Ayatollah Shahroudi, passed a [not all that binding] moratorium on stoning in 2002. In March 2008, a woman named Mokarrameh Ebrahimi ... was released from prison and her stoning sentence was reversed by Iranian authorities." (She and her husband, Jafar Kiani -- whose marriage had for some reason gone unregistered -- had been sentenced to be stoned together. Despite international outrage about both sentences, he was stoned separately in 2007, possibly at the order of a judge who also defied local civilian and governmental opposition.)

"Mokarrameh's release from prison must not be an isolated case. The example has already been set," said Taina Bien-Aim, executive director of Equality Now. "We urge Ayatollah Shahroudi to extend the progress made through Mokarrameh's case by irrevocably reversing all current sentences of death by stoning for so-called 'immoral acts.' What is immoral is the act of stoning, and all other forms of violent and inhumane punishment."

There's also hope in the bigger picture, considering -- for one thing -- that Iranian women's rights groups are (though subject to serious censorship) among the loudest in opposition to stoning of both men and women. The Middle East Times reports that while national political representation of women is "lagging" (see the piece for further explanation), "Iran performs much better than other Middle Eastern countries on female education, health, and labor force participation. Iranian women comprise around two-thirds of university entrants ... And, while lower than the world average of 58 percent, Iran's female labor force participation -- 42 percent -- is the highest in the Middle East."

Plus: "Today, Iranian women are present in every educational and employment field that is traditionally male-dominated. And they are active politically, especially at the local level. In the 2006 municipal elections, 44 seats out of the 264 on provincial capital councils went to women. In addition, Iranian women represent such a large share of voters in local and national elections that they are able to significantly influence national politics. For instance, the 2008 parliamentary candidates had to adjust their election campaigns to attract women voters by vowing to change family and labor laws to ensure more equal treatment of women."

And! "There is strong public support for greater gender equality in Iran. A recent poll ... [found] that 78 percent of Iranians think that it is somewhat or very important for women to have full equal rights with men and 70 percent think that the government should make an effort to prevent discrimination against women."

Back to Kobra Najjar: Equality Now has the 411 for the officials you can contact to urge both her release, and the commutation of all other stoning sentences, in accordance with Iran's obligations under the ICCPR.

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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Broadsheet Infidelity Iran Love And Sex Middle East