Young Man Defies Iranian Regime's Attempt to Kill His Mother - People of Goodwill Can Show Support

11/04/2010 03:27 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Sajjad Ghaderzah, 22, the son of Sakineh Ashtiani, an Iranian woman the regime has sentenced to death by stoning, has been "severely tortured" and remains jailed, according to the International Committee Against Stoning (ICAS).

Ashtiani's attorney, Houtan Kian, has also been tortured, according to the ICAS.

Kian, Ghaderzah, and two German journalists who traveled to Iran to bring Ashtiani's story to light have all been jailed, and Ashtiani remains under sentence of death in Iran.

Ashtiani's case attracted international attention earlier this year when her son, 22, and daughter, 17, spoke up to plead for their mother's life - and enlisted the aid of international human rights groups like ICAS and Amnesty International.

Ashtiani's sentence, which the Iranian regime changed from stoning to hanging, was set to be carried out yesterday, November 3. But the international outcry resulting from the efforts of her children and human rights groups appears to have succeeded, at least for now. She remains alive.

This case provides a useful prism for grasping the extent of the Iranian regime's tyranny. After being convicted of adultery - a capital crime in Iran - Ashtiani was paraded on national TV to "confess" (according to the ICAS, she had been tortured to extract this "confession"). At a later date, she was accused and convicted of being an accomplice in the murder of her husband.

Some may question the appropriateness of critiquing another country's judicial procedures. But subsequent events illuminate the repressive and brutal nature of the regime's tactics - and the need to protest them.

The regime has reacted to nonviolent questioning and protest with arrests and torture of this woman's son and her attorney, and arrests of the journalists who were working to tell her story.

Why would the Islamic Republic of Iran do this?

The answer is simple, and can be found in history.

The regime appears to be handling this matter as authoritarian regimes typically will: by clamping down harder and trying to intimidate anyone willing to stand up to them and ask for transparency, or fight for human rights. But once enough people, or a strong enough force, stands up to a bully, he will always back down. The same is true of totalitarian regimes. They are only as strong as the fear and passivity they sow in the hearts and minds of good men and women.

Iran's allies and key UN powers are Ashtiani's best hope -- they could convince Iran of the serious political cost of this high-profile killing.

Typically I do not use this forum to ask people to sign on to a petition or directly advance a cause. But it seems to me this is a case in which individuals can make a difference.

We may not be faced with bombs and bullets, but we can overcome our comfortable apathy and lend our voices to the chorus standing up to the regime.

Since Ashtiani's son started the international campaign, activists have gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures. Celebrities including Carla Bruni, wife of French Prime Minister Nickolas Sarkozy, have spoken out. And although her execution was scheduled for yesterday, Ashtiani is still alive. Perhaps that is because the regime knows the world is watching.

We are blessed that we are not on the front lines. But we can each do our small part to save this woman's life and to take a stand against tyranny.

A petition is circulating, and will be sent to the UN, the Obama Administration, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, and European powers, calling upon them to press the Islamic Republic of Iran to free Ms. Ashtiani, her son Sajjad, her attorney Mr. Kiad, and the two German journalists. You can sign on here.

Another petition asking the Islamic Republic to spare this woman, and letting them know the world is watching, is also circulating. You can sign it here.