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.

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Why the Liberal Democrats by-election surge is not all it seems

The Lib Dems chalked up impressive results in Stoke and Copeland. But just how much of a fight back is it?

By the now conventional post-Brexit logic, Stoke and Copeland ought to have been uniquely inhospitable for the Lib Dems. 

The party lost its deposit in both seats in 2015, and has no representation on either council. So too were the referendum odds stacked against it: in Stoke, the so-called Brexit capital of Britain, 70 per cent of voters backed Leave last June, as did 62 per cent in Copeland. And, as Stephen has written before, the Lib Dems’ mini-revival has so far been most pronounced in affluent, Conservative-leaning areas which swung for remain. 

So what explains the modest – but impressive – surges in their vote share in yesterday’s contests? In Stoke, where they finished fifth in 2015, the party won 9.8 per cent of the vote, up 5.7 percentage points. They also more than doubled their vote share in Copeland, where they beat Ukip for third with 7.3 per cent share of the vote.

The Brexit explanation is a tempting and not entirely invalid one. Each seat’s not insignificant pro-EU minority was more or less ignored by most of the national media, for whom the existence of remainers in what we’re now obliged to call “left-behind Britain” is often a nuance too far. With the Prime Minister Theresa May pushing for a hard Brexit and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn waving it through, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has made the pro-EU narrative his own. As was the case for Charles Kennedy in the Iraq War years, this confers upon the Lib Dems a status and platform they were denied as the junior partners in coalition. 

While their stance on Europe is slowly but surely helping the Lib Dems rebuild their pre-2015 demographic core - students, graduates and middle-class professionals employed in the public sector – last night’s results, particularly in Stoke, also give them reason for mild disappointment. 

In Stoke, campaign staffers privately predicted they might manage to beat Ukip for second or third place. The party ran a full campaign for the first time in several years, and canvassing returns suggested significant numbers of Labour voters, mainly public sector workers disenchanted with Corbyn’s stance on Europe, were set to vote Lib Dem. Nor were they intimidated by the Brexit factor: recent council by-elections in Sunderland and Rotheram, which both voted decisively to leave, saw the Lib Dems win seats for the first time on massive swings. 

So it could well be argued that their candidate, local cardiologist Zulfiqar Ali, ought to have done better. Staffordshire University’s campus, which Tim Farron visited as part of a voter registration drive, falls within the seat’s boundaries. Ali, unlike his Labour competitor Gareth Snell and Ukip leader Paul Nuttall, didn’t have his campaign derailed or disrupted by negative media attention. Unlike the Tory candidate Jack Brereton, he had the benefit of being older than 25. And, like 15 per cent of the electorate, he is of Kashmiri origin.  

In public and in private, Lib Dems say the fact that Stoke was a two-horse race between Labour and Ukip ultimately worked to their disadvantage. The prospect of Nuttall as their MP may well have been enough to convince a good number of the Labour waverers mentioned earlier to back Snell. 

With his party hovering at around 10 per cent in national polls, last night’s results give Farron cause for optimism – especially after their near-wipeout in 2015. But it’s easy to forget the bigger picture in all of this. The party have chalked up a string of impressive parliamentary by-election results – second in Witney, a spectacular win in Richmond Park, third in Sleaford and Copeland, and a strong fourth in Stoke. 

However, most of these results represent a reversion to, or indeed an underperformance compared to, the party’s pre-2015 norm. With the notable exception of Richmond’s Sarah Olney, who only joined the Lib Dems after the last general election, these candidates haven’t - or the Lib Dem vote - come from nowhere. Zulfiqar Ali previously sat on the council in Stoke and had fought the seat before, and Witney’s Liz Leffman and Sleaford’s Ross Pepper are both popular local councillors. And for all the excited commentary about Richmond, it was, of course, held by the Lib Dems for 13 years before Zac Goldsmith won it for the Tories in 2010. 

The EU referendum may have given the Lib Dems a new lease of life, but, as their #LibDemFightback trope suggests, they’re best understood as a revanchist, and not insurgent, force. Much has been said about Brexit realigning our politics, but, for now at least, the party’s new normal is looking quite a lot like the old one.