‘Execution Is Itself The Murder Of A Human Being.’
Interview with Mina Ahadi.
The below is an edited transcript of a Bread and Roses TV interview with Mina Ahadi, Spokesperson for the International Committees against Execution and Stoning
Maryam Namazie: You have been unrelenting in your activism against execution and stoning. In your opinion, what is the significance of the struggle against execution and stoning?
Mina Ahadi: When I was young, I took part in the Iranian revolution. When the Islamic regime took power in Iran, we became witness to a government, which from day one, began executing and stoning to suppress people, to suppress women and in order to consolidate itself.
My life changed when I, as a woman, witnessed a stoning. After seeing and hearing about the first stonings, I was no longer the Mina Ahadi of the day before the incident. I felt if only the world understood what stoning was (which I too didn’t understand at the time; I said to myself what does it mean; what do they do?). By using the most modern tools, they would announce it on the radio and television, and then bring a living, breathing woman, wrap her in a shroud, and then some would surround her and throw stones at her – the majority were men and those linked to the regime – until she was tortured to death. At the time, the question for me was who killed this woman and why such brutality? The answer, in my opinion, was that it was meant to frighten those women who were watching on the sidelines.
The distance between an ordinary woman’s life until the ditch in which she is stoned is very short indeed in an Islamic state and under Sharia law. So it was important for me as a woman if I wanted to defend my own dignity, if I wanted to speak, if I wanted to not be fearful that I would face similar accusations of having a relationship with someone in my own home, if I wanted to defend women’s rights, I would have to struggle against stoning. In many ways, my life has become intertwined with this issue. I have been active against stoning for many, many years. Not only this, but I can hear the voices of those condemned to stoning: their words, their faces, their memories. It must be noted that after many years the struggle has reached a place where the Islamic regime of Iran has been forced to stop stoning de facto.
Also, briefly on the issue of execution. Execution is also an important issue in Iran and countries under Islamic rule and generally throughout the world. I am opposed to execution everywhere but when it comes to Iran and countries like Iran, execution is an important tool to intimidate people, to terrorise them. If we want to defend people, workers, women, youth… we are forced to struggle against execution. At the same time, for me as a human being, it is important to do so. Can you believe that I have the voices of 18 people on death row saved on my phone? When one hears their voices, one cannot remain silent and not act.
Maryam Namazie: When we look at the situation of executions in Iran, it’s a very clear example of the repugnance of Sharia law and also the very act of execution. Can you speak about this?
Mina Ahadi: When I go to various conferences and speak, many say that executions take place in the United States too. I know that execution in any place is inhuman and brutal and must be prohibited everywhere. But when I compare the judicial system of the Islamic regime of Iran with other countries, then I can say without reservation that Iran and countries like it don’t have courts that properly examine cases.
For example, in certain criminal offences, let’s say when a murder takes place, even before investigating the crime or looking at evidence, they beat and torture the accused. They want a murderer right away; the first person they get their hands on will do. Lawyers don’t have permission to speak. The judge has full say based on Sharia law. I have seen a case where the judge opened Khomeini’s book, looked through it and then condemned the person to death! It is fundamentally a system of suppression. It is a criminal system. In my opinion, very little has been said about this in the world. I personally think we should say that this is fascism, Islamic fascism. And anyone who is brought before the court – be they a political activist, atheist, drug addict, or woman who has committed murder – it doesn’t matter. No one has any rights in those courts. In my opinion, this is an important issue. You know, in Iran, we are dealing with a regime for which killing is the easiest of tasks. It is because of this that we see such high numbers of executions. They have executed thousands of political prisoners, hundreds of atheists merely for not believing in God. They have executed hundreds of drug addicts…
There are many in prison right now who I call the “reserve army”. Whenever the regime feels there is unrest somewhere, they execute ten of these people without it being known why they were even arrested in the first place. I have spoken to and I’m in contact with a lot of families. One says, for example, they stashed drugs in her husband’s shop then arrested him because he was known and well respected in their neighbourhood and an opponent of the regime. This is how the system works.
Maryam Namazie: A number of human rights groups critical of the executions refer to unfair trials and say that the outcome would be different if the trial was fair under the current system – that the person wouldn’t have been executed. Is that how it is? You mentioned how this is not the case, but can you explain further?
Mina Ahadi: In Iran we are faced with a movement which calls itself “reformist”; it has been part of the regime. At times they have had some problems and been pushed out of the government. In my opinion, they have always tried to make justifications for executions, to make it ‘relative’ as the Germans say. They raise the issue of “arbitrary” executions, or the large numbers killed as if execution in and of itself has any legitimacy. In my opinion, execution is a tool for suppression everywhere. Execution is not a response to anything. I’d like to talk here about Reyhaneh Jabbari, the most recent case we are working on. She was 19 years old. Someone wanted to rape her. She used a knife from the house and fled. She didn’t want to be raped. They arrested her and took her to court but first they tortured her and pulled out her toenails in order to get a confession. Then they took her to court and condemned her to execution for premeditated murder. There was no examination into the attempted rape, the manner in which women are treated in society, the society’s role in this incident… They didn’t look into why she went there in the first place – because she was looking for a job to earn money. All these are relevant. They deny society an investigation into the phenomenon and immediately issue execution orders. In this instance, it is an official of the regime who has been killed so it has also become a security matter.
Maryam Namazie: The reality is that you have saved a lot of people from stoning and execution with your efforts in the International Committees against Stoning and Execution. Pressure is effective even in situations where things seem hopeless.
Mina Ahadi: Now that you have given me the opportunity, I would like to defend the type of work we do. Many times when I do interviews, I will be told that we need to struggle in general and fight for the overthrow of the Islamic regime of Iran. They will ask why we focus on specific campaigns like this. In my opinion, a degree of the success of the International Committees against Stoning and Execution has been our focus on specific cases. If you look at London, where we are now, or anywhere else in the world, if you want to get the attention of your neighbour, if you want to move them, you must have a photo; you must be able to show life. You can’t just say thousands have been executed, come protest with me. You can say this but in order to be able to have an impact in this world you must be able to say: look at this picture; it’s someone like you who needs your help in Iran or they want to execute her. We’ve been very successful in this way. In my opinion, what we did was to give a face to those on death row. We defended the dignity of those condemned to execution or stoning in Iran. We tried to bring their cases to the world’s attention and not only their attention but to join their hearts with, for example, a woman in Iran called Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani who was at risk of stoning. I think these activities – the characteristics of which are also very important in today’s world – have had a huge impact in making the world take notice. If anyone wants to look at our work or give us credit, it should be because we created a platform and conditions so that the person who is strolling in a park and has many problems of their own from work and so on, can have an opportunity to intervene when they are saddened to hear that someone is facing death by stoning. With a click, with a demonstration, with a donation, with a protest action, they can share in taking a stand in the worldwide opposition to stoning.
Maryam Namazie: Apart from the important role of saving individual lives, another crucial role that you have played has been to make the fight against execution into a widespread social issue. There is a social movement in Iran which doesn’t necessarily yet exist in many countries like the US. In my opinion, that role is very important. How to do see the social aspect of the struggle against executions?
Mina Ahadi: I think you raise a good point. In Iran, there is very clearly a movement against executions that doesn’t exist in China, for example, even though there are many executions there. I say this often. In the streets of London, Paris, or wherever I go, I always see a group of people with placards protesting against executions in Iran. You don’t see these types of scenes very often with regards to executions in China or the US.
In my opinion, too, in Iran this is the case because of the widespread executions, the brutality of the Islamic regime, but also because of the existence of an opposition which has focused on this issue. We must close the file on those who claim to defend human beings whilst remaining silent on the daily executions. I often say that you must pull down the shutters of any political party which doesn’t speak about the executions in Iran. We have focused on this issue, have been active, and not just by issuing press releases, which is also important. We have cried with the families, have raced against time with the mothers to save the lives of their loved ones. We have been in direct contact with prisoners themselves, interviewed them, organised international actions. This as well as the fact that people in Iran have become active, including the families, artists… Reyhaneh’s campaign has been very interesting. Iranian artists, in Iran and abroad, have spoken about it. And what has happened now is the “movement for forgiveness”. It’s important.
This morning when I first woke up like every morning, I checked to see how many had been executed. Unfortunately this is a part of my life to see how many they have executed every day. A year ago when I came to London I had to speak somewhere and said that the regime had executed 11 people that day. When I looked at the news today, I saw instead that they had taken 6 people from Rajaieshahr prison to execute them; however, 3 of them were forgiven by the victims’ families at the gallows itself. 2 were given a chance to reconsider. 1 person was unfortunately executed from the 6. This shows that the scaffolds are falling. This is very important. From 6 people! I came happily to this programme because I said to myself, people are moving beyond the gallows.
If anyone wants the Islamic regime to be overthrown, its gallows must be overthrown first. Now, three people from Rajaieshahr prison were forgiven today. This movement for forgiveness is important. As a result of daily experiences, people have seen that executions are pointless. The Islamic regime brings in the families of the victims into the execution process. Now victims’ families are saying “no” to execution. I have contacts in Iran. The families are saying: “if I don’t forgive, people, my neighbours, won’t look at me”. This is what is happening.
Maryam Namazie: Why should there be no executions in Iran or elsewhere?
Mina Ahadi: Execution is premeditated murder. It’s cold-blooded murder. A state decides to kill someone! Anyone can clearly understand that no one has the right to kill a human being – whatever the reason. Often governments will say “you have killed someone so we will kill you”. Whilst that very person – those sentenced to death in Iran are saying this themselves – ordinary prisoners like Reyhaneh – are saying they did it under extraordinary circumstances. The state is doing it in such a cold-blooded manner. Execution is the premeditated murder of people and it must be abolished from human society. No one, no state, no group has the right to kill a person – whatever the reason. Execution is itself the murder of a human being and must be prohibited. But execution is now a political phenomenon. With execution, they create fear; fascists stay in power via executions. States create a climate of terror. The fight against execution is also important from this point of view. We want the abolition of execution in all countries. Social problems must be addressed and solutions found. But one principle is important. However much humanity has advanced, respect for the human being has increased – even respect for the accused. Even respect for the rights of those found guilty of murder. Of course these matters must be investigated but execution is a phenomenon that must be abolished across the world because it is premeditated murder and it is the most important violation of human rights.
Mina Ahadi is the Spokesperson for the International Committee against Execution.