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Death by Stoning: Why Is This Sickening Punishment Legal?

In 2014, it is still legal or being practiced in some countries.

Imagine your community had a gathering at the local park this weekend. All your friends and neighbors are here for the big event. The woman down the street has been accused of adultery by her husband and three of his friends, so she has been sentenced to death by stoning.

In the middle of the field, the woman is buried in the ground up to her chest and everyone is circled around her. There are piles of stones ready to be thrown. These stones are large enough that they will cause life-ending damage, but not too big to kill her on impact. The stoning is meant to be a slow, painful, and deliberate death.

The husband has the “honor” to throw the first stone. Then her children are coaxed into taking part. They are told to do it for God. The woman is allowed to try and escape, but she is buried too deeply. For the next 10 to 20 minutes the rest of the community joins in.

I wish this description was a nightmarish fiction, but in some countries, this form of capital punishment still exists. The details remain the same, aside from the fact that it is not happening right down the street.

This is the truth I realized as I watched the movie "The Stoning of Soraya M.," which is based on the true story of the stoning-to-death of Soraya Manutchehri in Iran in the 1980s. Soraya is falsely convicted of adultery by a Sharia court and a sentence of death-by-stoning is her punishment. In the movie, one of the most horrific moments is when the father encourages her two eldest children to throw stones at their own helpless mother.

As of this writing, at least 11 people await stoning sentences in Iran, most of which have gone against women as a means of control. Stoning is also a legal punishment in Pakistan, northern Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Mauritania, and Yemen. Out of these counties, stonings have occurred in Iran, Pakistan and Somalia, although the stonings in Pakistan have been outside the legal system. There are a few other countries in which stonings are not condoned by national legislation, but sentences have been carried out at a regional level or by tribal groups.

One of these countries is Afghanistan. Stoning was the official punishment for many crimes under the Taliban rule, but the U.S.-led occupation helped end that. Late last year, however, there were a series of worrying reports that the Afghan government would reintroduce some aspects of Sharia law to appease the Taliban, including stoning.

A worldwide public outcry helped prevent this from being written into law; a victory for human rights. However, with U.S. troops withdrawing from Afghanistan and media attention waning, there may be an increase in violence against women in the region and restriction of their rights. Even though stoning is not legal, it will likely continue to happen unofficially.

If the public outcry is loud enough, these punishments can be prevented. Learn more about it. Read the stories online, share them on social media and let your voice be heard. The petition on to “End Stoning Now” has accumulated nearly 12,000 signatures. We have seen time and time again how a small effort from enough people can have monumental results.

More from Kathryn Seifert Ph.D.
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