The death of the 27-year-old Pakistani woman Farzana Iqbal, who was fatally stoned Tuesday, has renewed rhetoric surrounding women’s rights. To the shock of many, Iqbal’s story is just one in a long line of stoning executions across the globe.
Iqbal was three months pregnant as she waited for the doors of a public courthouse to open with her newlywed husband. During the wait to finish the paperwork of their marriage, the couple was attacked by a group of 30 people. Among those throwing the stones, which ended Iqbal’s life, were her father, brothers and cousins.
Calling it an “honor killing,” the young woman’s father told police, “I killed my daughter [because] she…insulted…our family by marrying a man without our [permission],” adding that he had no remorse. Iqbal had gone against her family’s wishes by marring a man of her choice, rather than subjecting herself to the pre-arranged marriage to her cousin.
While the story seems brutal and unusual, at least 1,000 such death sentences are carried out each year according to the Aurat Foundation, a Pakistani human rights group. Pakistan is not alone, either. Stoning is either authorized by law or practiced in 15 countries worldwide.
While some nations like Pakistan do not condone stoning, the legal consequences for those who practice it are far less than one would expect. Following Iqbal’s death, her father was arrested but has a high chance of walking free, as Pakistani law allows the victim’s family to forgive their killer.
Stoning is traditionally used to punish adultery or “zina.” It is a way of controlling men and women’s sexuality, but according to Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML), a women’s advocacy group, it has no religious support.
The practice of stoning is never mentioned in the Koran, despite the continuous religious justification surrounding the punishment. In fact, many prominent Islamic leaders condemn it. A well-known Shi’a cleric in Iran, Grand Ayatollah Yousef Sanei, issued a religious edict against the act, agreeing with his colleagues who have called it “Islamically unjustifiable.”
The stoning in Pakistan has renewed both moral and legal rhetoric about women’s rights across the world. Activist groups, like WLUML, believe the punishment to be in violation of international human rights laws, such as the fundamental freedom from torture. Despite this belief, there are no specific commitments on the international level regarding the legality of stoning.
Groups like WLUML, with support from Progressive Muslims and the International Committee Against Stoning, are pushing to bring increased attention to this issue. A petition addressed to the United Nations, which circulated last year, had 12,000 supportive signatures.
Rights activists in Pakistan and Iran, though, have said the international pressure has not stopped stoning from happening. In fact, some believe the number is rising. Four nations including Iran, Sudan, Mauritania and Pakistan legally authorize the practice, while 11 more are the scene of extrajudicial killings.
The recent death of Farzana Iqbal in Pakistan has renewed the rhetoric surrounding women’s rights and the practice of stoning. While a number of international groups have condemned the act, it is still taking the lives of women in a number of nations.
By Erin P. Friar