Tuesday, Oct 21st, 2014

Latin America’s duty to Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani

Back in August, then Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva offered sanctuary in his country to Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning for the “crime” of adultery. It was another moral and well-judged piece of diplomacy from the leader, who has just been replaced in presidential election by his […]

By on Monday, November 8th, 2010 - 616 words.

Morales' choice: Bolivia's president passes to Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, playing on the left wing, during a soccer match in Tehran, 26 October 2010. Photograph: Reuters

Back in August, then Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva offered sanctuary in his country to Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning for the “crime” of adultery. It was another moral and well-judged piece of diplomacy from the leader, who has just been replaced in presidential election by his protege, Dilma Rousseff.

Lula had taken big risks with his engagement of the Iranian regime, alongside Turkey, in order to find a peaceful resolution to the ongoing furore over the Iranian nuclear programme, which Iran says is for civilian purposes and the US and Israel say is for nuclear weapons. The real strides made by Lula and Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdoğan were purposefully ruined by a US-sponsored UN resolution, which imposed a fourth round of sanctions and jettisoned the valuable work they had done.

But in the aftermath, Lula rightly realised that he could use his influence to try to shame the Iranian regime from going forward with this barbaric death sentence. Now, the situation became even more acute as the International Committee Against Stoning has said it has information that Ashtiani is to be executed imminently.

Lula’s intervention was true to form. He is part of a historic movement in Latin America. After centuries of foreign dominion and interference, a collection of independent leaders has sprung up from the ranks of the poor who genuinely represent their people and are building better societies across the region, from Hugo Chávez in Venezuela to Evo Morales in Bolivia.

But most of these socialist leaders have made a strategic alliance with the Iranian regime as they try to build up relationships outside of US hegemony. A trade relationship is understandable – the US has an ugly history of liquidating democracy in Latin America and installing their own tyrants to create a happy investment climate for their corporate interests. It’s only rational that the new wave of leftwing leaders try to build independent groupings.

But if these socialist governments are giving hope to millions across the globe who want to build a better world, then with that comes huge responsibility – a responsibility that, on Iran, they have not met. In fact, they have done the opposite.

Last week, there was a video of Evo Morales kicking around a football with the Holocaust-denying president of Iran before announcing a nuclear tie-up, and the week before, Hugo Chávez was there breaking bread with the head of a regime which thinks nothing about hanging two gay teenagers from a crane. There was not a whimper of comment from either on the barbarous nature of the government that was hosting them. For those who have invested effort and hope in these governments, this was hard to take. Not only would Chávez and Morales be in the opposition if they lived in Iran, they would probably be sitting in jail and being tortured.

Because of their closeness to Iran, they have the power to shame its leaders into stopping the barbarous injustice of Ashtiani’s execution, and they must do it. It is now incumbent on Hugo Chávez, Rafael Correa and Evo Morales to join their comrade Lula and offer Ashtiani sanctuary in Latin America, while forcefully denouncing Iran’s human rights abuses of women and gay people.

It’s the very fact that the leaders of Latin America are different and have principles that makes it vital they speak out against the atrocities taking place and being planned in Iran. It is to them that we look.

Offer Ashtiani sanctuary now. Shame the Iranian regime to stop this outrage.

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Matt Kennard

Matt Kennard graduated from the Journalism School at Columbia University as a Toni Stabile Investigative scholar in 2008. He has written for the Guardian, Salon and the Chicago Tribune, amongst others. In 2006 he won the Guardian Student Feature Writer of the Year Award.

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