The following editorial first appeared in the Chicago Tribune:
Iran's decision to release Sarah Shourd, a 32-year-old American who was imprisoned in the Islamic republic on ridiculous charges of espionage, is drawing cheers this week and rightly so.
Shourd was hiking along the Iraq-Iran border with her fiancé and a friend in July 2009, when they were arrested by Iranian officials and thrown in prison in Tehran. They have been behind bars for more than a year. While she was held in solitary confinement, Shourd found a lump in her breast. She was diagnosed with precancerous cells.
Ramin Mehmanarast, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, told Iran's Mehr news agency that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad intervened in Shourd's case in part because of the "special viewpoint of the Islamic Republic of Iran on the dignity of women."
Never mind the international pressure to release the three Americans or the $500,000 in bail paid for Shourd's release.
But since Mehmanarast brought it up, let's examine the special viewpoint of the Islamic Republic of Iran on the dignity of women, if that's what he wants to call it.
Let's examine execution by stoning, a sentence that Iran imposes far more often on women than men.
Under Iran's penal code, men and women convicted of adultery are to be stoned to death. Yes, it's as gruesome as it sounds. A woman is buried up to her chest; a man is usually buried to his waist. The stones are not to be large enough to kill the person on just one or two strikes, or so small that they could not be defined as stones. They are used to pummel the victim until she dies.
Amnesty International points out the system makes women more prone to such a fate. Men are allowed multiple wives in Iran, and evidence presented by a woman in court is given less weight than that by a man.
At least 11 Iranians in prison face stoning, and eight are women, according to Amnesty.
The case of one prisoner - Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 43-year-old mother of two who was sentenced to be stoned for a 2006 adultery conviction - has drawn worldwide outrage. As a result of the attention, Iranian officials said they would drop the sentence. The government has also stepped back from carrying out plans to stone to death Mariam Ghorbanzadeh She was six months' pregnant when she was beaten in Tabriz prison and suffered a miscarriage, according to Houtan Kian, an attorney for the two women.
Is Iran showing mercy? Hardly.
The government changed Ghorbanzadeh's sentence - to hanging. Iranian officials have reframed the case against Ashtiani, saying she is guilty of complicity in the murder of her husband, which could lead to a death sentence.
Kian, who represents two other women in Tabriz prison on adultery convictions, worries about the cases that have not entered the global spotlight. "My fear is that Iran executes Mariam and those others whose cases have not attracted media attention," he told the Guardian.
Last week, the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, lashed out against Ashtiani's stoning sentence, calling it "barbaric beyond words."
That message needs to echo around the world. An execution of any kind for adultery is barbaric. Iran's "special viewpoint" on women is barbaric.