Kathryn Seifert Ph.D.

Stop The Cycle

Death by Stoning: Why Is This Sickening Punishment Legal?

We can no longer tolerate this violation of basic human dignity.

Posted Feb 18, 2014

I warn you that this article contains graphic content and a link to a video that is disturbing. Yet, I encourage you to read on. You deserve to know the truth about stonings, so that we can put an end to this primitive and disgusting punishment that is still taking place in many countries throughout the world. We cannot allow this major violation of basic human dignity to occur any longer.

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 in to 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, until there is nothing left but a bloody stump.

Woman wearing burqa
I wish this description was a nightmarish fiction, but for fifteen countries this form of capital punishment still exists. All the details remain the same, aside from the fact that it is not happening right down the street. However, that is no excuse for inaction. These stonings are happening in our backyard, on our watch, to our brothers and sisters of the world.

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 1980’s. Soraya is falsely convicted of adultery by a Sharia court and a sentence of death-by-stoning was 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. You can see the scene here (warning: graphic content).

This movie scene is a current reality for at least 11 people awaiting 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 that troubles me is Afghanistan. Stoning was the official punishment for many crimes under the Taliban rule, but the U.S.-led occupation helped end it as an official court ruling. Late last year 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, I believe that it will lead to an increase in violence against women in the region and restriction of their rights. Even though stoning is not legal, it will continue to happen unofficially.

We must continue to apply worldwide pressure on Iran, Afghanistan and other countries where stoning is legal or tolerated. Stoning is a heinous act of torture. If the public outcry is loud enough, we can outlaw and prevent these punishments. Learn more about it. Read the stories online, share them on social media and let your voice be heard. Sign the petition on Change.org to “End Stoning Now,” which has accumulated nearly 12,000 signatures. We have seen time and time again how a small effort from enough people can have monumental results.

Do not accept the existence of stoning in some cultures in the Middle East and Africa. It is time to unite! Human rights in these places are a significant issue that will take a long time to improve, but putting an end to this barbaric punishment is a damn good place to start.

Teaser photo by Steve Evans

Main photo by Dirk Haas of Germany


Written by Dr. Kathy Seifert

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–Dr. Kathy Seifert

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