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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Northern Ireland election results: a shift beneath the status quo

The power of the largest parties has been maintained, while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising.

After a long day of counting and tinkering with the region’s complex PR vote transfer sytem, Northern Irish election results are slowly starting to trickle in. Overall, the status quo of the largest parties has been maintained with Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party returning as the largest nationalist and unionist party respectively. However, beyond the immediate scope of the biggest parties, interesting changes are taking place. The two smaller nationalist and unionist parties appear to be losing support, while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising.

The most significant win of the night so far has been Gerry Carroll from People Before Profit who topped polls in the Republican heartland of West Belfast. Traditionally a Sinn Fein safe constituency and a former seat of party leader Gerry Adams, Carroll has won hearts at a local level after years of community work and anti-austerity activism. A second People Before Profit candidate Eamon McCann also holds a strong chance of winning a seat in Foyle. The hard-left party’s passionate defence of public services and anti-austerity politics have held sway with working class families in the Republican constituencies which both feature high unemployment levels and which are increasingly finding Republicanism’s focus on the constitutional question limiting in strained economic times.

The Green party is another smaller party which is slowly edging further into the mainstream. As one of the only pro-choice parties at Stormont which advocates for abortion to be legalised on a level with Great Britain’s 1967 Abortion Act, the party has found itself thrust into the spotlight in recent months following the prosecution of a number of women on abortion related offences.

The mixed-religion, cross-community Alliance party has experienced mixed results. Although it looks set to increase its result overall, one of the best known faces of the party, party leader David Ford, faces the real possibility of losing his seat in South Antrim following a poor performance as Justice Minister. Naomi Long, who sensationally beat First Minister Peter Robinson to take his East Belfast seat at the 2011 Westminster election before losing it again to a pan-unionist candidate, has been elected as Stormont MLA for the same constituency. Following her competent performance as MP and efforts to reach out to both Protestant and Catholic voters, she has been seen by many as a rising star in the party and could now represent a more appealing leader to Ford.

As these smaller parties slowly gain a foothold in Northern Ireland’s long-established and stagnant political landscape, it appears to be the smaller two nationalist and unionist parties which are losing out to them. The moderate nationalist party the SDLP risks losing previously safe seats such as well-known former minister Alex Attwood’s West Belfast seat. The party’s traditional, conservative values such as upholding the abortion ban and failing to embrace the campaign for same-sex marriage has alienated younger voters who instead may be drawn to Alliance, the Greens or People Before Profit. Local commentators have speculate that the party may fail to get enough support to qualify for a minister at the executive table.

The UUP are in a similar position on the unionist side of the spectrum. While popular with older voters, they lack the charismatic force of the DUP and progressive policies of the newer parties. Over the course of the last parliament, the party has aired the possibility of forming an official opposition rather than propping up the mandatory power-sharing coalition set out by the peace process. A few months ago, legislation will finally past to allow such an opposition to form. The UUP would not commit to saying whether they are planning on being the first party to take up that position. However, lacklustre election results may increase the appeal. As the SDLP suffers similar circumstances, they might well also see themselves attracted to the role and form a Stormont’s first official opposition together as a way of regaining relevance and esteem in a system where smaller parties are increasingly jostling for space.