News of Sakineh

09/07/2010 11:49 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

No more direct news of Sakineh. Since her so-called confession, broadcast on television in mid-August, she has been in solitary confinement, in secret, with no contact with the outside world, no contact with her attorney, without visits from her family.

Threatened with stoning--and alone. The sentence hanging over her head, to be executed at any moment--and alone. Happy are those who, calm and filled with the confidence of strong minds, feel capable of telling us that the threat is past, that the Iranians will no longer dare, that there will be no execution. Her former attorney, Mostafaei, knows no such thing. Nor does her new attorney, Houtan Khian. Armin Arefi and I, at Le Règle du Jeu, are in the dark as well. Only one thing, in fact, is sure. The stoning has been suspended, not canceled. And our friends, the Iranian bloggers and human rights activists with whom we are in contact in Tehran, with whom we exchange information, all agree on one point: the evening of Friday, September 10th, the hour of the end of Ramadan, will be the hour of all dangers--starting at that hour, the worst will be, at any instant, possible.

News of Sakineh. Her son, Sajjad, is my source. His voice over the phone is deeply moving. His combat, as he describes it, is nothing short of tragic. This boy has lost his father, who was assassinated. He is trying to save his mother, accused of having been involved in this assassination. He himself, by speaking with me and wishing to have this conversation passed on by the international press, is obviously taking all kinds of risks. But for him, it's very clear. His mother is innocent. Absolutely and totally innocent. He did not have to "pardon" her, as all too hurried journalists reported, because she has committed no crime. He explains that the charges against her are so trumped up, so absurd, he does not even have to "defend" her. He is just a boy of 22, a ticket taker on the buses of Tabriz, the city where his mother awaits execution, who tells how, today, the very day of our conversation, the Iranian judges have gone so far as to break in to her attorney's office to steal the court case file so they will then be able to tamper and fiddle with it as suits them.

News of Sakineh. This time, it is Armine Arefi who speaks with Sajjad and then to the lawyer, Houtan Khian, and we at La Règle du Jeu, who spread their news. Sakineh seems to have been sentenced anew to 99 lashes. The whipping seems to have taken place at the beginning of last week, probably August 30th or 31st. Two of her fellow inmates, condemned to lighter sentences and released on Friday, September 3rd, testified to that effect before the act (the sentencing, and then the execution) was confirmed, respectively, by the judge at Tabriz prison and by a court employee. And why this new monstrosity? Because of a sordid story of a photo published in the British press of her, Sakineh, veil-less and bare-faced, which would be, in and of itself, an offense to Sharia law. I say a sordid story, for it is by no means certain that the photo is of her. Her son, Sajjad, is adamant and insists that it is not she in the photo. But such is this justice that one would qualify as grotesque were it not, first and foremost, barbarian. If it is not you, then it must be your sister. The lash, then, before the stones; the bloody, lacerated, mangled body before the face reduced to a pulp. The entire machine of State, the whole fanatic horde unleashed at the heels of this young Azeri of 43, nearly illiterate and, against her own will, fast becoming a symbol.

News of Sakineh. The wave of support that swells. The anger, the impotent rage, the horror in an increasing number of minds and hearts. Sajjad had written to Federico Lombardi, at the Secretariat of State of the Vatican. Following Nicolas Sarkozy's declaration that Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is France's responsibility, I had issued an appeal to Spanish public opinion in the daily El Pais. Today, September 6th, the Vatican's "divisions" enter the battle. Spain has taken a stand at the highest level. In the United States, thanks, in particular, to the Huffington Post, the movement has spread to all sectors of opinion. And the petition of La Règle du Jeu has attracted nearly 100,000 signatures. What good is a petition? And are stones soluble in the ink of proper nouns? No, obviously. But Sakineh has nothing else. Sakineh has only the insurgent consciences of men and women of free countries to help her. Her son says it over and over again, "Without you, without these names, without these tens of thousands of net surfers who click on their PCs to express their solidarity, my mother would already be dead."

News of Sakineh. My friend Bernard Kouchner* who hasn't changed all that much despite his ministerial functions, receives Mohammad Mostafaei, Sakineh's former attorney, whom I accompany. He reiterates France's commitment. He stresses the fact that, like Sarkozy, he will make the case of this young woman a personal affair. He asks questions, gathers information, enters into the details, tries fervently to understand: how to act? who to approach? Who, in fact, has the power to grant a pardon? How many times did he, Mostafaei, obtain pardons, before his forced exile? Answer: only the Supreme Guide, the Ayatollah Khamenei, has the power to grant a pardon. Answer: in the past six years, he, Mostafaei, has obtained ten pardons (and, apparently, three adamant refusals). We must save Sakineh. We must, by maintaining the pressure, even stepping it up, obtain clemency for Sakineh.

*Bernard Kouchner is France's Minister of Foreign Affairs.