Accessibility links

Breaking News

Iranian Lawyer Representing Stoning Case Woman Flees To Turkey

Mohammad Mostafaei in a 2009 courtesy photo
The lawyer of an Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery has fled to Turkey and has requested asylum there.

The lawyer, Mohammad Mostafaei, a well-known human rights activist, has been representing Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani, a 43-year-old mother of two sentenced by an Iranian judge to death by stoning after she was found guilty of adultery.

In his first interview since fleeing Iran, Mostafaei told RFE/RL that he was summoned to Tehran's Evin prison on July 24 for questioning by public prosecutor Shahid Moghdas. The questions about his legal activities focused on why he helps juvenile offenders who have been sentenced to death, and why he offers his services as a lawyer free in certain cases. The questioning in these intimidating surroundings lasted three hours, after which Mostafaei was told he could go.

But on arrival at his office later that same day, he says he was told that people had already been there to arrest him. Later he received word that his wife Fereshteh and her brother had been arrested, and he resolved then never to surrender voluntarily to the authorities.

"After several days [officials] made it clear that they were holding my wife and [her brother] as hostages and that, until I gave myself up, they wouldn't let them go," Mostafaei said. "I decided to leave Iran, and since I knew that I would be prevented from doing so, I crossed the border into Turkey and made it to the city of Van."

After arrival he contacted a human rights group, and was taken to Istanbul, where he has applied for asylum.

Asked if he believes the authorities had tried to punish him for representing Ashtiani, he said he had a right and a duty to defend her.

"It was my duty to save the life of Sakineh Mohammadi," Mostafaei said, "And because the judiciary didn't help save her from being stoned, I made her cry of help to be heard by the world so that the judiciary would come under pressure and she would escape stoning."

Her case has become an international cause celebre because of the barbarity of the sentence of death by stoning. To the acute embarrassment of the Iranian political and judicial authorities, her case is receiving publicity around the world. Last month the authorities suspended the stoning, but said the death sentence against her still stands.

Brazil's president has even taken up the case. Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has offered to give asylum to the woman in Brazil. However, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said this week Tehran has rejected that offer. He said the president would understand why once he was in possession of the full facts of the case.

Meanwhile, lawyer Mostafaei is denouncing the arrest of his wife, who is believed still held.

"I truly didn't believe that there would be people in Iran's judiciary who know nothing about humanity," Mostafaei said. "I never thought that there would be so much lawlessness in our judiciary. I never thought that they would keep my wife in jail close to two weeks over a sin she hasn't committed. She didn't have anything to do with my work."

He also expressed worry about the fate of a number of child offenders he was representing, some of whom were threatened with the death penalty.

written by Breffni O'Rourke based on reporting by Golnaz Esfandiari and Robert Tait
  • 16x9 Image


    RFE/RL journalists report the news in 27 languages in 23 countries where a free press is banned by the government or not fully established. We provide what many people cannot get locally: uncensored news, responsible discussion, and open debate.