As a woman in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Sakineh Ashtiani already occupied the lowest rung on the ladder, but her life got a lot worse after her husband died. Or was killed, actually.
As a widow, she--a consenting adult, although there's no such concept in the Islamic Republic--may or may not have had a sexual relationship with another adult. (Oh, and she was an "unwitting accomplice" in her husband's murder. But that's a recent development, and a minor issue compared to the adultery charge.)That's all based on hearsay and a confession that was blurted out after days and days of interrogation and possibly torture.
In a nightmare good news/bad news scenario, the bad news was that she was sentenced to death by stoning. The good news was that she was sentenced to, and received, 99 lashes. (Islamic law, in the Islamic Republic of Iran, specifies that these be carried out at "full force.") Presumably, this was instead of the stoning--but wait! The bad news that followed was that this is in addition to the stoning.
Good news: after her adult children appealed for mercy and brought international attention to the story, world opinion pressured the Islamic Republic's authorities to suspend the sentence until after Ramadan, and then--more good news!--although execution is still in the cards, it may be by hanging instead of stoning.
But then: bad news: a picture surfaced, and was published by a newspaper covering the story. It featured a women who looked like Ashtiani. This woman was not covering her hair. Again, according to Islamic law in the Islamic Republic, this is a big no-no. Sentence: 99 lashes. (Please pay attention, all of you who say, "Oh, but women are free to wear what they want in Islam, and it's such a good way to be modest and seen only for your inner beauty, etc. etc." Yeah, right.)
But, good news: this woman only resembled Ashtiani !
Bad news: by the time this information surfaced, the sentence had already been carried out.
Well, who can blame the Islamic authorities for this little mistake? If you've only ever seen a woman with her head covered, and then you see a woman who sort of looks like her but with all this hair, anyone could make an error! Oops.
Good news: the international campaign to have Ashtiani's sentence lifted is gaining momentum. Brazil has offered her asylum, the Pope is appealing to the Islamic Republic of Iran for mercy, and protests are being held outside the Islamic Republic's embassies.
Bad news: all this attention is just making the Islamic Republic's Islamic authorities really ticked off.
Stoning is a nasty way to go. The victim is buried (for men, up to the waist; for women, up to above the breasts). The rocks have to meet a size requirement: too small, and the punishment isn't effective and takes forever; too large, and it's over too quickly, which detracts from the entertainment value. Essentially, the rocks have to be hefty enough to eventually crack the skull open when repeatedly whacked against the victim's head. If you don't see brains ooze out, you're not done yet.
Now, for anyone who says, "Oh, stoning is cultural, not religious!" , I say, "Boy, have I got some great Florida swampland for sale to you!" Because it is totally religious. It is in the Islamic Republic's Islamic legal code, and it is imposed by Islamic authorities, and you can't get much more religious than that. Although it is mentioned in the Bible, and in the past was practiced by a number of cultures, stoning is now exclusively a Muslim punishment. In today's world, there are no non-Muslim countries which have this punishment on their books.
It's very interesting that one of God's 99 names, according to the Qur'an, is "God the most merciful." I don't know about that: maybe it should be replaced by "God the Most Sadistic."
At least in the Islamic Republic of Iran.