Iranian state TV broadcasts "confession" by woman sentenced to stoning

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, her son, laywer, and two foreign journalists confess to "lies".

In the latest development in the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, Iranian state television has broadcast confessions by the woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery, as well as her son, lawyer, and two foreign journalists.

The programme attempted to cast Mina Ahadi, an activist for the German-based International Committee Against Stoning as the villain of the piece, for her role in spreading the story around the world.

In her third television appearance since the case drew world attention, Mohammadi Ashtiani, 43, said that she was guilty of the murder of her husband -- a crime of which she was previously acquitted in court. "I am a sinner," she said. In the past, she has said that she made confessions under duress.

It also featured her 22 year old son, Sajjad Qaderzadeh, and her lawyer, Houton Kian, who were both arrested last month.

Her son said:

He [Kian] told me to say she [Mohammadi Ashtiani] was tortured ... Unfortunately, I listened to him and told lies to the foreign media.

I'm full of regret. I think if I had not known the two lawyers ... the case would have gone through its normal course.

Kian repeated this:

Telling lies to foreign media was my recommendation to Sajjad.

It is a sad reversal Qaderzadeh, who fearlessly spoke out about his mother's case, despite the awareness that it could lead to his imprisonment and torture. Back in August, he said: "Our last option was to ask people of the world to help us."

Two Germans arrested last month while allegedly trying to interview Mohammadi Ashtiani's family also appeared. They both reiterated the accusation against Ahadi, an Iranian human rights activist living in exile in Germany.

One said:

I didn't know anything about this issue. But Ms. (Mina) Ahadi knew about it and since she could benefit from the propaganda on my arrest, she sent me to Iran.

I will surely file a complaint against her when I return to Germany.

The other concurred:

I agree that I made a mistake because I was unaware and I was deceived by Ms. Ahadi.

It's been confirmed that the two journalists -- identified only as a reporter and a photographer -- will be charged with spying. They have been held without charge since 10 October.

It is likely that these "confessions" are the attempt of the Iranian government to counter the international outcry over the case. Blaming western powers for stirring up conflict is a default position for Tehran, as we saw during the democracy protests in 2008. Indeed, in light of this belligerent position, and Iran's already fraught relationship with the international community, it is vital that international pressure is executed carefully. That there has been a delay in carrying out Mohammadi Ashtiani's sentence is positive; but the imprisonment and subsequent parading of her relatives and associates shows a distressing -- yet all too consistent -- repression of dissent.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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We don't need to build more prisons - we need to send fewer people there

The government talks a good game on prisons - but at the moment, the old failed policies hold sway

Some years ago the Howard League set up an independent expert review of what should happen to the penal system. We called it Do better, do less.

Too many governments have come in with enthusiasm for doing more, in the mistaken belief that this means better. We have ended up with more prisons, more prisoners, a bulging system that costs a fortune and blights lives. It is disappointing that the new regime appears to have fallen into the same old trap.

It is a big mistake to imagine that the justice system can be asked to sort out people’s lives. Prisons rarely, very rarely, turn people into model citizens able to get a great job and settle with a family. It is naïve to think that building huge new prisons with fewer staff but lots of classrooms will help to ‘rehabilitate’ people.

Let’s turn this on its head. There are more than 80,000 men in prison at any one time, and 40,000 of them are serving long sentences. Simply giving them a few extra courses or getting them to do a bit more work at £10 a week means they are still reliant on supplementary funding from families. Imagine you are the wife or partner of a man who is serving five to ten years. Why should you welcome him back to your home and your bed after all that time if you have hardly been able to see him, you got one phone call a week, and he’s spent all those years in a highly macho environment?

The message of new prisons providing the answer to all our problems has been repeated ad nauseam. New Labour embarked on a massive prison-building programme with exactly the same message that was trotted out in the Spending Review today – that new buildings will solve all our problems. Labour even looked at selling off Victorian prisons but found it too complicated as land ownership is opaque. It is no surprise that, despite trumpeting the sell-off of Victorian prisons, the one that was announced was in fact a jail totally rebuilt in the 1980s, Holloway.

The heart of the problem is that too many people are sent to prison, both on remand and under sentence. Some 70 per cent of the people remanded to prison by magistrates do not get a prison sentence and tens of thousands get sentenced to a few weeks or months. An erroneous diagnosis of the problem has led to expensive and ineffective policy responses. I am disappointed that yet again the Ministry of Justice is apparently embarking on expansion instead of stemming the flow into the system.

A welcome announcement is the court closure programme and investment in technology. Perhaps, in the end, fewer courts will choke the flow of people into the system, but I am not optimistic.

It is so seductive for well-meaning ministers to want to sort out people’s lives. But this is not the way to do it. Homeless people stealing because they are hungry (yes, it is happening more and more) are taking up police and court time and ending up in prison. We all know that mentally ill people comprise a substantial proportion of the prison population. It is cheaper, kinder and more efficacious to invest in front line services that prevent much of the crime that triggers a criminal justice intervention.

That does leave a cohort of men who have committed serious and violent crime and will be held in custody for public safety reasons. This is where I agree with recent announcements that prison needs to be transformed. The Howard League has developed a plan for this, allowing long-term prisoners to work and earn a real wage.

The spending review was an opportunity to do something different and to move away from repeating the mistakes of the past. There is still time; we have a radical Justice Secretary whose rhetoric is redemptive and compassionate. I hope that he has the courage of these convictions.

Frances Crook is the Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform.